Battle with Bulls — step toward first place?

Matt Goul

Teams in tie for second, just a half-game back

Road games are trips Kent State might miss. The Flashes are undefeated without them. Too bad the Mid-American Conference has not adopted any grade-school intramural rules lately.

Kent State (11-6, 3-3 MAC) is 2-6 on the road. Buffalo (10-4, 3-3 MAC), which comes to the M.A.C. Center tonight, has struggled on the road, too. Even worse for the Bulls, they have never won at Kent State.

The Flashes are running with the Bulls in second place of the MAC East standings. First place is not far away. Miami, sitting at 3-2 in the MAC, lost its conference games to Kent State and Buffalo.

Led by senior guard Turner Battle, Buffalo has played impressively — rallying from 15 down in the second half to beat Toledo following it up with a 75-59 loss at Akron.

Battle, a preseason All-MAC selection, is only 14th in conference scoring with 14.1 points a game. Buffalo, preseason favorites in the East, may be slightly off expectations. But Kent State coach Jim Christian is still impressed.

“They played tough people,” he said. “A lot of that comes down to schedules. We’re five or six games into the league. It’s not about that. It’s about trying to get your team to play well when they need to play well. I think they’re doing that.”

The Bulls opened their season with a loss to defending national champion Connecticut. They also have losses to MAC champion Western Michigan and Bowling Green. Three of their four losses are on the road.

At least Buffalo’s road losses have been to winning teams. Even Akron is 9-5. Kent State, meanwhile, has a MAC road losing streak that spans back to its loss at Buffalo last year.

Since the Flashes 16-point loss at Buffalo a season ago, they have lost six straight on the road in conference. The game springboarded Buffalo into its first trip to Gund Arena for the MAC tournament.

“Everybody saw it last year,” Christian said of Buffalo’s talent. “When they put it together, they were very hard to beat. They play with a lot of confidence. They’re physical, they’re strong, and they’re big.”

Yassin Idbihi, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, has a shooting touch with shot-blocking ability. He scored 16 points, including four 3-pointers when Kent State lost at Buffalo on Feb. 25, 2004. Mark Bortz, a 6-10 senior supporting Idbihi, is third in the MAC with 19 blocked shots.

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