Only tournament will settle MAC title

Matt Goul

Six-way tie for second will be settled with MAC Championship

Guard Jay Youngblood fights for the ball during Saturday’s game. Youngblood had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Credit: Matt Goul

Good thing there’s a conference tournament to settle a championship.

A dominant team that gets upset in the postseason may argue otherwise, but little was settled in this year’s Mid-American Conference season — so far, at least.

Miami won the MAC East and enters as the top-seeded team in the tournament. But even RedHawks coach Charlie Coles admitted his team is not dominant, which comes as a natural assertion of having the conference’s best record. But when the MAC’s top seed was two games from playing on the road in a first-round game, the parity becomes clear. Six teams enter the tournament with the second-best record, including Kent State, at 11-7. Had the Flashes won that 70-45 loss at Miami a week ago, they would be the No. 1 seed. Ohio would have been the No. 1 seed had it won at the M.A.C. Center Saturday night.

But vindication is here.

The MAC starts over with the tournament that starts tonight. Junior point guard DeAndre Haynes admitted that forgetting the disappointments can be tough, but he said dwelling on what could have been will likely end any chances of vindication.

“If you look at the MAC, everybody had their ups and downs,” Haynes said. “Everybody is even. If you don’t come to play in the MAC, you’re bound to lose.”

He said the first five minutes of each game will determine who wins and who loses. It’s something Kent State has not done much of in the last 10 games. Only in a loss at Buffalo did the Flashes hold an advantage on the scoreboard with a fast start. They were 6-4 in the last 10 games, having to play from behind in a poor shooting effort most times.

Haynes had struggled to get his game going, too. He has not had back-to-back solid games since mid-January. Even when Haynes seemed to break out of his slump with double-digit scoring or few mistakes handling the ball, he fell back to the funk by the next game.

He broke out of the funk again Saturday. He was starving for it, pumping his fists, clapping and jumping at every opportunity to celebrate a big play. Now it’s time to see if he can continue it into another game.

“I was crazy hungry,” Haynes said. “It started with a little trash talking on the floor. They whooped us up real bad at their house. They came into our house trying to talk. We just fed off their energy.”

The 26-point loss Kent State got Jan. 15 at Ohio was its worst of the season. But that’s how the MAC season has gone. Miami’s regular season closed with a loss at last-place Marshall.

No. 1 to No. 9 is only two games, so maybe top to bottom is not that far, either.

“It’s Rolaids time for all the coaches in the MAC, except for the three guys that get to go to Cleveland directly,” Ohio coach Tim O’Shea said.

Ohio gets upset-minded Marshall tonight. The winner will face Kent State or Central Michigan Thursday night at Gund Arena in the MAC tournament quarterfinals.

Central Michigan added its own kink to the conference race Saturday, too, upsetting Bowling Green in the West Division and keeping the MAC’s second-place tie from growing to seven teams. The Chippewas matched Marshall as both last-place teams pulled upsets. Marshall’s upset of Miami did nothing, but Central Michigan’s kept Bowling Green from tying for the West title.

Contact men’s basketball reporter Matt Goul at [email protected].