Third time will settle the score

Matt Goul

It’s time for Mid-American Conference officials to acknowledge there is little need for a regular season.

Settling it on the court did not work the first two times Kent State (20-11) and Ohio (18-10) played.

The home team won decisively on its own court each time. Much like the rest of the Mid-American Conference season, all that was settled was it helps to play at home. That will not happen any more.

Kent State’s MAC tournament quarterfinal game against Ohio at 9 tonight in Gund Arena will only have a home feel for whichever team has more fans. The home team was 83-34 in MAC games this season. Now there is no more home-court advantage or road-court disadvantage. The MAC title will be decided the next three days on Cleveland’s court.

“There are no secrets this time of the year,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “Everybody knows everybody’s personnel. Everybody knows what everybody’s trying to do on the floor. A lot of it comes down to execution and little things; the teams that make the hustle plays and has somebody get hot to make shots. That’s been the formula for the teams who have advanced at the Gund Arena.”

That is what Christian has got for the last three halves. Kent State outscored its opponents by 50 points in 60 minutes since trailing by two at halftime of its 82-65 win over Ohio Saturday. Kent State, which has won four of its last five, did not play nearly as well in games leading up to Gund Arena the last two years. Christian’s squad lost four straight games before entering the MAC quarterfinals last year. Six of seven games were lost leading up to the tournament the year before.

This year, Kent State had to play a first-round game for the first time. Ohio coach Tim O’Shea said playing it can help more than a bye.

“I think it’s very difficult in the Big East,” O’Shea said. “To win in the Big East, you got to play four games in four nights. In the MAC, you play a game on Monday then you have two days off before you have to play again.”

The time off helped a struggling Kent State team catapult its way to the MAC title game the last two years. Playing through without the same struggles could prove O’Shea right.

Can the production stay up?

“If we come out and play like we did,” point guard DeAndre Haynes said. “Everybody’s got to get their mindset and get ready to play for these next three days.”

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