It certainly wasn't easy, but the No. 8 Miami RedHawks (13-17, 8-10 MAC) took down the No. 9 Kent State Golden Flashes (16-16, 7-11 MAC) in the first round of the MAC Tournament Monday night, 71-64.
Predictably, these two closely-seeded teams hung tight with each other in the first half. Kent State drew blood first on a jumper from Kellon Thomas, but Miami’s Will Sullivan answered with a bucket on the next possession barely two minutes into the game. The next 10 minutes of play featured five lead changes, with neither team really pulling away from the other. There were stretches during this period that made the RedHawks look similar to the version that showed up against Ohio the game before; some careless turnovers were coupled with wide open threes for Kent State. Miami was playing pretty well, out-rebounding its opponents and shooting above fifty percent at one point, but those two warts on its game really prevented the RedHawks from getting much going.
The RedHawks did take a 23-20 lead at the 7:51 mark on a layup from Quinten Rollins but, unfortunately for the home squad, that would be their last basket for over four minutes, allowing the Golden Flashes to ride a 7-0 run and take a 27-23 advantage. Sullivan broke Miami’s scoring drought to cut the deficit in half, but Kent State held onto its lead tight until the final seconds of the half. After holding at half-court to wind the clock down, Rollins drove to the hoop and kicked it out to Sullivan who was fouled on his 3-point attempt, and promptly drilled all three freebies to give his team a 33-31 lead, its first lead in over six minutes. With 3.2 seconds left on the clock Kent State drove up the court and put up a desperation 3-point shot that went in, but the officials deemed the shot wasn’t released in time, meaning Miami’s two-point lead held into halftime.
That called-off 3-pointer really would have served Kent State well, because Miami came out of halftime playing much better basketball. After swapping baskets, Willie Moore knocked down a three, sparking an 8-0 run that put the RedHawks up by 10, the first double-digit lead of the game for either team. With 8:43 left in the game Miami held a 13-point lead, 57-44, its largest of the night. But what would the month of March be without a little intrigue on the court?
Devareaux Manley knocked down back-to-back threes to cut the Kent State deficit to seven, and those baskets quickly snowballed into an 11-1 run. A couple of possessions later, after forcing a Kent State turnover, Jaryd Eustace lost the ball on a careless behind the back dribble that led to points for the Golden Flashes and made the score 59-57 with just 4:10 left.
It really felt like a flashback to Saturday afternoon when the RedHawks let Ohio claw back in the game and really squandered a great opportunity. Tonight, however, was a different story. Led by Rollins down the stretch, Miami secured a five-point advantage, 67-62, with a mere 33 seconds left on the clock. The game turned into a free throw shooting match in the closing moments and, this time, the RedHawks took advantage of their opportunities at the line and ended up on the right side of a 71-64 victory.
Kent State’s season ends in Oxford, the first time the Golden Flashes fail to win a MAC Tournament game since losing to Ohio as a number one seed back in 2010. For Miami, it will get the chance to exact some revenge on arch rival Ohio, a team it hasn’t beaten since the 2010-11 season.
Battle of the Bricks: Round 3. Buckle up.