Men's Basketball Title Hopes Dashed in NCAA Tournament

ROLLTIDEDOTCOM
ROLLTIDEDOTCOM

ROLLTIDEDOTCOM
Tide falls to Kent State in second round, 71-58
Saturday, March 16, 2002

Rod Grizzard
Rod Grizzard
GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) -- Stan Heath is Kent State's basketball coach, not a fortune teller.

But if his hunch about the team is right, the Mid-American Conference champions aren't anywhere near finished making a statement in the NCAA Tournament.

The 10th-seeded Golden Flashes ousted second seed Alabama 71-58 Saturday in the second round of the South Regional, extending the nation's longest winning streak to 20.

"We're in uncharted waters right now," Heath said. "But I like to read eyes in the locker room, and I wasn't looking at a bunch of guys who were saying: `Hey, our season is over. We've accomplished what we want to accomplish.

"I saw some eyes of players that said we're doing some special things. That's the attitude of my players, and I'm certainly not satisfied right now as a coach."

Kent State (29-5) advanced to a regional semifinal for the first time with their third tournament upset in two years. The Golden Flashes beat No. 7 seed Oklahoma State in the first round.

"They are not here by fluke," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "(Oklahoma State's) Eddie Sutton would agree with me, and probably a whole lot of other coaches, too."

Trevor Huffman scored 20 points, and Antonio Gates had 18 to pace the Golden Flashes, who methodically built a 12-point halftime lead before blowing it open in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Alabama (27-8), the Southeastern Conference regular-season champions, became the highest-seeded school to exit the tournament. The Crimson Tide also struggled in a first-round victory over Florida Atlantic and shot just 38 percent in Saturday's loss.

"I thought they were going to be a tougher team," Huffman said. "I felt like when we put it together, I don't think they expected us to be that good."

Rod Grizzard led Alabama with 17 points, but most came after the game was out of hand. SEC player of the year Erwin Dudley had 12 points and 10 rebounds, but freshman star Mo Williams was limited to 12 points after scoring a career-high 33 in the first round.

Alabama drew motivation all season from being left out of the NCAA field a year ago, when the Crimson Tide finished with 25 victories and reached the NIT final.

Kent State was 4-4 at one point this season, but have won 25 of their last 26 games -- the lone setback being a one-point loss at Buffalo on Jan. 9.

Five MAC teams have made it to regional semifinals since 1990, and the Golden Flashes insisted it didn't feel like underdogs against Oklahoma State in the first round or Alabama, which was in the tournament for the first time since 1995.

Alabama was hurt by poor shooting Saturday. The Crimson Tide missed nine of their first 12 shots, fell behind 18-8, and finished the half 8-for-26 (30.6 percent.)

To make matters worse, Kent State held its own on the backboards against Alabama's larger, more physical frontcourt and disrupted the Crimson Tide's offense by forcing 11 first-half turnovers.

"I don't think energy was a problem for us," Williams, the SEC freshman of the year, said. "We were sky high for this one, up to the roof. It was a case of hitting shots, plain and simple. They made more shots than we did."

Heath felt one of the keys for Kent State would be getting off to a strong start. The Golden Flashes weren't as sharp as they were in building an early 15-point lead over Oklahoma State in the first round, but their persistence produced a 36-24 halftime lead.

Gates led the way, bolstering his team's confidence with each shot he made.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound forward had 10 points at the break and had six more during the nine-minute stretch in which the Golden Flashes build their lead to 58-34.

Huffman made two 3-pointers during the 22-10 surge. When Alabama went on a 14-4 run to pull within 62-48, Kent State answered with jumpers by Gates and Huffman to regain control.

The Golden Flashes are the first MAC team to advance to the final 16 since Wally Szczerbiak led Miami of Ohio there in 1999. Last year, Kent State upset Indiana in the first round, but was routed by Cincinnati in the second.

Like Williams, Grizzard shrugged off a suggestion that Alabama didn't play with emotion.

"If we would have folded," the Crimson Tide star said, "they could have won by 40."