OXFORD - There are no style points in March. All that matters at this stage of the college basketball season is survival.
The polls are pointless. The power rankings are irrelevant. What counts this month is not a basketball team's reputation, but its results. You win, you go on. You lose, you go home.
Miami's 75-65 over Kent State Tuesday night was about as artful as a stack of sandbags, but it was perfectly suited to the purpose. For 35 minutes, the Redskins played on the cusp of peril, unable to pull away from a Kent State team of inferior ability and curious coaching. It was the kind of game you expect when one team has no margin for error and the other has nothing to lose.
But now it is over, and Miami moves on to the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals in Toledo. March Madness has gained a little momentum around Millett Hall. Everyone can exhale again.
''I knew they were going to be tough when they walked in the building,'' Miami coach Charlie Coles said of Kent State. ''There wasn't a smile on any of those kids' faces.''
Flashing bad form
There hasn't been much to smile about this season at Kent. The Golden Flashes finished 9-18, and from all appearances deserved their fate. Twice Tuesday night, Kent players completed passes to their coach, Gary Waters. Once, with a chance to take the lead with less than five minutes to play, the Flashes failed to get off a shot within the 35-second limit. They looked, at moments like these, like a team in preseason form.
Yet they went to their dressing room at halftime holding a nine-point lead.
Much of this was directly attributable to D.J. Bosse, a Colerain High School product with the shooting range of a howitzer. Bosse made all four of his three-point attempts during the first half, and finished the period with 15 points. Miami couldn't stop him. It took Kent State coach Gary Waters to do that.
Waters is in his first season as a head coach, and a few of the game's finer points may have eluded him. One is that when a guy is as hot as Bosse was, you should not allow him to cool off on the bench. Yet this is where Bosse began the second half, and where Kent's advantage evaporated.
Miami scored the first seven points of the second period, and thereby sliced Kent's lead from nine points to two. More than seven minutes passed before Bosse was able to take another shot (which he made). Kent State was able to stay close until the last two minutes, but was never again in such strong position as where it ended the first half.
''I knew at the start of the second half, it wasn't an offensive thing, it was a defensive thing,'' Waters said, by way of explanation. ''Bosse's not the best defensive player I have. Not even close.''
Miami tougher inside
Waters' decision to emphasize defense did not manifest itself on the stat sheet. Miami shot nearly 70 percent in the second half, led by center Ira Newble (eight for eight). Newble finished with 25 points, and Kent is still searching for an antidote.
''I ran about 50 different things to keep them off-balance,'' Waters said, ''but their inside game is just much tougher than ours.''
Maybe Miami would have won this game no matter what Waters did. The team that relies too much on its three-point shooting is usually undone by the law of averages. Bosse was not quite as sharp in the second half as he had been in the first. Miami was that much better.
''We knew,'' said Redskins forward Devin Davis, ''that we had no business being in that situation.''
Sloppy things happen this time of year. Kent State might not match up well against Miami, but any team should find a few shortcuts by the time it faces an opponent for the third time. Coles praised Waters' game plan for its innovation and its effectiveness.
''To be down nine (points) was like being down 18,'' Coles said. ''We had been totally outplayed and outcoached.''
Coles could afford to be generous. His team is still alive. In March, that's all that matters.