"We lost to a very good basketball team tonight," said Marshall coach Greg White after the game. "They played very well down the stretch of the game."
For most of the game, Marshall and Kent State were deadlocked in a battle of the MAC's David (Marshall) and Goliath (Kent State). The Herd and the Golden Flashes swapped baskets in the first half, producing an even 33-33 halftime score.
Marshall forward JR VanHoose, left, pulls a rebound away from Kent State forward Antonio Gates during the first half of their quarterfinal game of the Mid-American Conference tournament at Gund Arena Thursday, March 7, 2002, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
In the second half, a 10-0 KSU run highlighted by Andrew Mitchell's arcing three-pointer, shot the Flashes out to a 47-40 lead with 13 minutes remaining. Marshall's J.R. VanHoose answered that KSU run personally, hitting a pair of 19-footers to bring the Herd to within three points at 61-58 at the 8:36 mark.
"We weren't expecting VanHoose to make the jumpers that he was making," said KSU's Antonio Gates. "He is a tough player to defend."
Marshall would not get within three points again, though, as the Flashes' Andrew Mitchell drained a NBA-like three-pointer with 3:07 remaining to pull away for good, 71-66. During the final two minutes, KSU hit 7-of-8 free throws as Marshall played the foul-and-possession game, trying to catch up from behind.
Tamar Slay led all Marshall scorers with 22 points, and was joined by teammates Ron Blackshear (19) and J.R. VanHoose (16) in the double figure club. Blackshear's point total is notable for the fact that he sustained a dislocated pinky finger on his left (non-shooting) hand with 56 seconds remaining in the first half.
"In the second half, I thought we did better at taking away their good looks at the basket," summed up Kent State coach Stan Heath after the game.
KSU's Trevor Huffman (24), Antonio Gates (23) and Andrew Mitchell (10) all scored in double figures.
Marshall shot 43% from the field (26-of-61), but a below-par 25% from three-point range (5-of-20). Kent State, on the other hand, was marginally better than Marshall, shooting 54% (29-of-54) from the field, and 36% (5-of-14) from three-point range. The telling stat is free throws, as Marshall only mustered 13-of-20, while KSU nailed 19-of-29 for the game.
The loss ends Marshall's season at an even 15-15 record, and also saw an end to the VanHoose-Slay era at MU.
"Me and J.R. both had greats run here," summed up Tamar Slay. "Since we have been here we have done nothing but move up. Next year, the players coming back will have a great chance of winning the conference."