Comfort found in pressure situations

Matt Goul

DeAndre Haynes dribbles the ball through Central Michigan’s defense during the first round of the MAC Tournament between Kent State and Central Michigan last night at the M.A.C. Center. Kent State beat Central Michigan 91-60.

Credit: Matt Goul

Central Michigan had an uncanny comfort in Kent State’s 91-60 first-round Mid-American Conference tournament game last night at the M.A.C. Center.

The Chippewas (10-18) were so comfortable they had no problems passing to players wearing Kent State jerseys. Jay Youngblood even had no problem stealing the ball as Central Michigan amassed seven turnovers in the first five minutes.

By the time Central Michigan figured out Youngblood, Kevin Warzynski and Scott Cutley were not on its team, Kent State’s lead was double digits.

The comfort was more of a lackadaisical glaze for Central Michigan. But it was pure comfort for Kent State (20-11) as shots sank and passes were converted crisply. The aura of a seventh straight 20-win season grew as each shot was made or another pass was on target.

“We work hard all season to put ourselves in a position to make it into the postseason,” said senior guard Jason Edwin, who scored 12 points. “We’re enjoying all of our hard work.”

Comfort returned for Armon Gates.

He was 1-of-26 from behind the 3-point line in his last eight games. The last time he hit multiple 3s in a game was Feb. 6 against Northern Illinois. Before the slump started, Gates was developing into the Flashes’ go-to guy for a 3 when needed. He hit six in a loss at Toledo, hitting multiple 3s late in the game before missing his last two. He stayed on track with his range for two more games before the slump started.

It ended when Mechie Johnson found Gates for his first 3 last night. The shot made Kent State’s lead 19-3 midway through the first half. And the shots kept coming.

“I’ve been hesitant,” Gates said, “and the coaches every day before practice will talk to me and tell me to play my game and shoot the ball; don’t be hesitant. My teammates keep telling me, ‘Shoot it,’ because that’s what I do.”

He hit three more 3s after the feed from Johnson and finished with a team-high 15 points.

“It was real good to see him put up those 3s,” point guard DeAndre Haynes said. “He’s one of those guys, like Mechie and Youngblood, who comes in the gym constantly working on his jumper. When you see him putting up that 3 and he’s putting his hands up, you can see he’s got confidence in himself.”

Comfort was back for DeAndre Haynes, too.

Haynes broke out of his own slump Saturday with his emotions flooding his play. He had not scored in double figures for back-to-back games in about seven weeks. He did last night, scoring 11 points after a 16-point game against Ohio.

After the game, Haynes reneged when talking about his slump and told himself he was not in one before the last two games.

“I had my hard times,” he said, “but Gates was talking to me, and everybody was talking to me, telling me it was going to be all right. It’s a big thing, but we all sit down and talk to each other and just tell each other to keep our heads up for everything to work out for us.”

Haynes said having Gates back to his old form and Johnson’s emergence completed the puzzle needed as the team heads to Gund Arena for a MAC tournament quarterfinal game Thursday night. The Flashes will play Ohio, who beat Marshall, 72-66, at home last night.

Comfort remained in Johnson last night, too.

He did not just find Gates for his first 3 of the night. He set up more teammates in playing 19 minutes — the first time the sophomore has played 10 minutes or more in three straight games at Kent State.

He found Nate Gerwig under the basket after collecting a swing pass from Warzynski near the top of the key. Johnson, standing beside the backboard outside the paint, swung back to Gerwig, who scored on a foul to put Kent State up by 20. Gerwig’s free throw made it 35-14 with 7:13 left in the first half.

“The beautiful part of this game for us was everybody who stepped on the floor contributed,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “Everybody really had a MAC tournament mentality and that’s what you have to have this time of the year.”

Even Jason France, who did not play all season, knocked down a 3 — his only field-goal attempt this season — after Christian put him into the game with less than two minutes left.

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