Basketball looks for redemption against Bobcats

Matt Goul

KSU could jump as high as the fourth seed with win

Guard DeAndre Haynes looks for a way past Akron’s Mario Collins during Saturday’s game. Kent State plays Ohio 6 p.m. tomorrow.

Credit: Andrew popik

The wedgie lingers from the 25-point loss at Miami.

Tomorrow is one of the Flashes’ last chances to pick it out.

Automatically advancing to Gund Arena is no longer an option for Kent State.

This team will have to play a first-round game for the first time since byes were incorporated into the Mid-American Conference tournament in 2000. It could also be on the road unless tomorrow’s home finale against Ohio (17-9, 11-6 MAC) is won.

“We’re playing inconsistent right now because one minute we’re there and one minute we’re down,” said junior guard Jay Youngblood. “We got to pick what we want to do and how bad we really want it.”

Staying in the middle of the pack with nowhere else to go will continue if consistency does not come, Youngblood said. They have only one more game before the tournament play begins, which is enough time to build confidence through consistency.

Kent State (18-11, 10-7 MAC) is tied for the fifth-best record in the MAC, entering the final game. Buffalo, Bowling Green and Toledo also are 10-7 in conference play.

The Flashes’ 11th loss was the first time they have had more than 10 losses since 1998. They were 13-17 that season. A streak of four-straight MAC East titles will end. Six straight 20-win seasons are in danger of ending, too, unless that consistency comes.

“The only thing you can ask for is to have a chance to play for it at the end,” coach Jim Christian said. “We didn’t step up and accept that challenge, to a man, to the coaching staff, nobody.”

It was not as if Miami caught Christian or his players off guard. The RedHawks hit them with a man-to-man defense and slowed the game down with long possessions. They controlled the glass with a 46-33 rebounding advantage, keeping Kent State from collecting any of those missed shots. The Flashes finished the game shooting 14-of-51 from the floor after making only 2-of-22 in the first half. Christian characterized their response as playing with no confidence or poise.

He took “full responsibility” for the loss.

His concern also is the consistency. Should Ball State upset Western Michigan at home tomorrow, it could overtake Kent State for the No. 8 seed — the worst a team can do and still play at home Monday.

“I’m not worried about the standings or where everything is,” Christian said. “I’m trying to continue to get our kids to believe in themselves and continue to improve. That’s been more of a challenge than worrying about the standings or championships.”

Only Miami can rest for now, knowing it has clinched the East and a first-round bye. But even West-leading Western Michigan has to look over its shoulder with a one-game lead and tiebreaker possibilities.

“We may be in first place. We may be better than everybody by how we played tonight,” Miami coach Charlie Coles said Wednesday night. “But I don’t know if we can ever play like we played tonight. We may not be better than certain teams on certain nights.”

Teams two through eight are within a game of each other. Ball State is the only team that can move up from playing on the road to at home.

The only certainty is the possible shuffling from No. 2 to No. 8 and its effect on who advances at Gund Arena and whose season ends.

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