Growing up has its rough times

Matt Goul

Haynes-led team meeting contributes to Flashes breaking losing streak

Center Kevin Warzynski forces his way to the hoop during Monday nights game. Kent State is hosting Buffalo at 7 tonight in the M.A.C. Center.

Credit: Andrew popik

Point guard DeAndre Haynes tried to organize a players-only practice after a 26-point loss Saturday at Ohio.

There was one problem.

“We called a practice after the game, but they were setting up for the gymnastics,” Haynes said. “It was a good thought. We hadn’t been playing well on the road with executing our plays.”

With other sports on campus — much less opponents in the Mid-American Conference — seemingly against them, Haynes and teammates settled for a players-only meeting instead. Haynes said the meeting, which led up to Kent State’s win over Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne on Monday night, helped. Now they will find out if their slump is over when they play Buffalo (10-4, 3-3 MAC), preseason favorite in the MAC East Division, tonight at the M.A.C. Center.

The players’ initiative to conduct their own practice drew the attention of coach Jim Christian.

Kent State’s third-year coach has held late-night practices following losses before. He did last year when the Flashes lost at Ohio to close out the regular season. This season, with another loss at Ohio, his players did not need their coach to tell them what to do.

“Did you guys do that? Where was I?” Christian asked Haynes.

Christian’s surprised tone in the question may have been more relief.

Haynes was designated a captain this season of a team that is supposed to be young and inexperienced. This year’s Kent State team is the least experienced Christian has coached in his three seasons. In his first season, he at least had multiple players with NCAA Tournament experience. Outside of Nate Gerwig, who sat out Monday’s game with swelling in his previously injured knee, no one on this team has that experience.

The 26-point loss at Ohio was the most a Kent State team has lost by with Christian as coach. With players trying to correct themselves, only gymnastics equipment held them back.

“You can blame our gymnastics team for that,” said Christian, joking. “If they weren’t so good and needed the big arena, then we could have had that practice.”

Christian said he did not think playing on the road hurt any ability to correct problems in practice. A trip to Athens against Ohio followed a visit to Western Michigan in Kalamazoo.

In the two games, Haynes had three more turnovers than he had assists. He had five turnovers and only one assist against Ohio.

A team meeting and a return home later, Haynes scored 16 points and took back his role — driving to the basket, passing off to an open teammate for a score and creating turnovers.

“The ball is moving more. Everybody is starting to believe in each other again,” said sophomore Scott Cutley after scoring a career-high 22 points against IPFW. “That’s a big deal with this team. One player can’t take over with this team. We play better as a team, and that’s how we win.”

Haynes had five assists to four turnovers against IPFW, but he took away the turnovers with five steals.

“He’s our guy,” Christian said. “A lot of stuff goes through him, and we put a lot of weight on his shoulders. A lot of guys went through it, and he went through it. When you’re going through it, especially on the road is where it shows up. When you don’t have the crowd behind you and a friendly environment.”

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