Flashes still in the MAC East hunt

Matt Goul

Flashes shoot for fifth straight title in division

Jay Youngblood tries to get a rebound during Wednesday’s win against Akron. Kent State faces Bowling Green tomorrow at 2 p.m. at home.

Credit: Andrew popik

after ornaments, but it’s the first-round bye in the Mid-American Conference tournament that comes along as a gift.

Kent State is two games behind Miami in the East Division with six MAC games to play. The Flashes (16-7, 8-4 MAC) are within reach of a fifth straight title, but winning the division is not necessary to get a bye. The third seed gets one, too, and that is where Kent State sits.

Bowling Green, tomorrow’s opponent at 2 p.m. at the M.A.C. Center, is a game behind for third overall.

The Falcons (13-7, 7-5 MAC) have lost three of their last four coming into tomorrow’s game. They have thrived off the play of forwards John Reimold and Josh Almanson, who each average about 17 points a game. Freshman Scott Vandermeer broke into the starting lineup two games ago when he blocked seven shots, tying a school record, in a win over Ohio.

“We got to continue to win,” DeAndre Haynes said, “continue to get road wins and home wins and let it play on from there. We talk about every day in practice, on the court and off the court.”

Haynes is used to playing big against Bowling Green.

He took on the scoring load in leading a MAC tournament quarterfinal victory over the Falcons last year. It was the second of two 20-point efforts against Bowling Green, the tournament game being a career-high 26 points.

Another effort of that magnitude would help Kent State stay in the third spot while not losing any ground on the RedHawks.

“We know the league,” coach Jim Christian said. “There’s a lot of basketball to be played. You just got to take care of business the best you can. If Miami continues to play as well as they’re playing, they’re in the driver’s seat. You have to keep giving yourselves opportunities, and we have to do that on the road.”

The top three seeds are 8-1 in quarterfinal games at Gund Arena the last three years. A team with a first-round bye has advanced to the championship game every year since the tournament was moved to Cleveland in 2000.

Bowling Green has company in trailing the Flashes.

Four other teams are 7-5. Akron, which Kent State gave a 57-54 loss to Wednesday, is one. Ball State, Ohio and Toledo are the others.

The MAC’s pack of teams fighting for position going into the tournament does not surprise Christian. He said the closely-contested nature of games and the standings are prototypical of this conference.

Christian may take comfort in knowing his players are gelling as the margin for error — or losses — is dwindling.

“I hope so,” he said. “We’ve played pretty well. It’s been different guys stepping up. They’re a little more comfortable in our roles now.”

His team has won six of its last seven games.

All nine players who got time in the Akron win have made contributions in the stretch of wins. Take your pick. It has been the savvy sophomore Scott Cutley — yes, savvy as a sophomore — providing leadership and energy. It has been Armon Gates or Jason Edwin finishing opponents off, like he did with his dunks on Akron. Even freshmen Marcus Crenshaw and Michael Scott have added depth off the bench.

That depth is required to pedal into and through a tournament grind.

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