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Team Profile: 2008 BracketBuster Recap: Kent State 65, Saint Mary’s 57

by David Mihm | February 24th, 2008

The final contest of BracketBuster Saturday proved to be its most meaningful, as the Kent State Golden Flashes escaped St Marys’ McKeon Pavilion with a 65-57 win. The victory places Kent State squarely on the Bubble, and ensures that if the Golden Flashes are beaten in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, they’ll be one of the most talked about teams on Selection Sunday.

Guard Al Fisher was simply amazing for Jim Christian’s crew, playing all but two minutes of the game, and dropping in 28 points (9-10 at the foul line). The JuCo transfer from Redlands, Oklahoma, was the quickest player on the floor, and possesses a potent arsenal of pull-up floaters and dynamic penetrating techniques. He drew a number of oohs and aahs even from the raucous McKeon crowd, particularly on a game-clinching acrobatic layup with 1:00 remaining.

His counterpart on the Gaels’ side of the ball, point guard Patty Mills, was relatively quiet, and a little turnover prone in the second half. Mills never seemed to get into the flow of the game the way he has on so many occasions for Randy Bennett’s team this year, and the Gaels’ overall offense suffered as a result.

Full credit should go to Jim Christian and the Kent coaching staff for its brilliant defensive scheme on Mills, particularly in the first half. The Flashes employed a double-hedge at the top of the key anytime Mills called for a screen. Though a cutting Gael big man might have been open for a split second as a result, the two-man trap was enough to disrupt Mills’ rhythm and a Kent player swooped in from the wing “in a Flash” by the time Mills was able to recover.

The lone bright spot for Saint Mary’s was the inspired play of Diamon Simpson, who went for 24 and 15 on 10-18 from the floor. No other Gael reached double figures.

Saint Mary’s was hurt, quite literally, by the loss of center Omar Samhan to what appeared to be a dislocated shoulder mid-way through the first half. He spent a full 40 minutes in the locker room, and did not return to the game. Kent State, a bit undersized even for a mid-major, did a much better job of clearing defensive rebounds, in the last ten minutes of the game in particular, without Samhan’s presence.

In a highly-entertaining, back-and-forth affair, it was indeed the three-point shooting which proved to be the difference on the offensive end. Kent State was an efficient four-for-eight from behind the arc, including two bigtime shots from 6’7″ senior Mike Scott just as it appeared Saint Mary’s was about to streak ahead with 8:00 left in the game. The Gaels meanwhile, were an uncharacteristic 3-for-16 from three-point range.

The game featured a number of SportsCenter-worthy highlights, not the least of which were three of Fisher’s driving layups in the second half. Haminn Quintance also silenced the home crowd with a thunderous tomahawk dunk over two hapless Gaels just a few minutes into the game.

The loss should not put much of a damper on Saint Marys’ NCAA Tournament hopes, though it surely will affect their seed. A 2-7 or 3-6 placement with Stanford or UCLA in Anaheim now looks entirely likely. Kent simply needed the win more to bolster its own at-large chances, and Al Fisher led them to a terrific signature win.

If you’re looking for a double-digit sleeper to complete your bracket in three weeks, you could do worse than to choose Kent State, a team with plenty of Cinderella tradition under former coach Stan Heath. It should be noted that Kent’s big men do not shoot free throws particularly well, and the team could struggle against foes with proven post options.  But despite their lac of size, the Flashes are as quick as their nickname implies, and Fisher is an unheralded superstar with the desire and skill to take a game over when everything is on the line.

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