Gerwig lifts Flashes in rivalry win

A sellout crowd greeted two local rivals last night.

It was a welcome sight for both Kent State (16-7, 8-4 Mid-American Conference) and Akron (13-7, 7-5 MAC). It has been several years since both teams have been in contention together — until last night.

With sole possession of second place in the Mid-American Conference East Division on the line, the matchup was definitely a big game. And a semi-forgotten man showed his young teammates how to make big plays in the Flashes’ 57-54 win at James A. Rhodes Arena.

Junior point guard DeAndre Haynes wears the “C” on his uniform. Jason Edwin is the only senior. But nobody has more experience than junior center Nate Gerwig.

Gerwig was the starter in the run to the Elite Eight. He has played in the biggest games. But a well-documented shoulder injury and multiple knee injuries later, Gerwig is finally almost back three years later.

Early last night, Gerwig went diving into first row for a loose ball. He also grabbed 10 rebounds with two and three Zips routinely hanging on him. Then with 2:30 remaining and the Flashes up by just two, Gerwig dribbled left in the post but drop stepped back to his right for a key layup.

Gerwig said he probably could not have made the move earlier this season.

“A couple months ago, I was off balance. My legs were still pretty weak,” said Gerwig, who still takes practices off because of swelling in the knee.

Gerwig scored seven second-half points in a comeback at Marshall Feb. 1. He had six points and two blocks to complement the team-high 10 rebounds last night. Coincidentally, they were the Flashes’ first two road conference wins since last February.

Gerwig’s energetic play is also rubbing off on the Flashes. The Flashes have outrebounded their last three opponents. Junior Jay Youngblood went diving on the floor for an offensive rebound in the second half last night.

“We talk about (energy) a lot,” Gerwig said of he and his teammates. “The bench players like me and (Youngblood) and (freshman Marcus Crenshaw) talk about it every day in practice. We just come off the bench, dive on balls, get steals, rebound — all the energy plays.”

As Gerwig has gradually returned, the Flashes’ defense has also picked up. The Flashes have held four of their last five opponents under 70 points. Flashes coach Jim Christian said the Flashes played their best defensive game last night when the Zips only shot 38 percent from the floor.

“Obviously defense was the main thing, rebounding and I think our composure,” Christian said. “The kids stuck together every timeout. The last two road games we’ve played, every timeout they come to, they keep telling each other, ‘We’re right there. Keep fighting; keep fighting.’ ”

The Flashes now head into the stretch drive two games behind Miami in the MAC, but the Flashes do have an opportunity to sweep the RedHawks lurking March 2.

The Flashes have four home games left at the M.A.C. Center, but Gerwig said he relishes the road trips, which the Flashes still have remaining at Buffalo, Central Michigan and Miami.

“I’d rather play on the road with their fans than at home with ours,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun disappointing other people’s fans.”

Contact managing editor Kurt Snyder at [email protected].