Saturday, March 23, 2002

Kent State no surprise to IU's Davis

Hoosiers put Golden Flashes on map last year

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — Let others ignore Kent State and think an easy game awaits. Indiana coach Mike Davis wanted no part of the Golden Flashes all along.

        “They almost cost me my job last year,” Davis said. “There were two teams I didn't want to play — that was Texas Tech and Kent State. Now we've got Kent State.”

        Last season, Indiana was eliminated in the first round by Kent State. Now, the two schools meet today in the South Regional with the winner going to the Final Four.

        Indiana is coming off a 74-73 upset of defending champion Duke. The fifth-seeded Hoosiers have more tournament victories this year than in the previous six seasons combined.

        Kent State, seeded 10th, defeated Oklahoma State, Alabama and Pittsburgh on its way to the round of eight.

        “I know Oklahoma State, Alabama and Pittsburgh didn't know what they were getting into, but we do,” Davis said. “It's going to be a tough basketball game. These guys know that.”

        Indiana (23-11), which rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit against the Blue Devils, is in the round of eight for the first time since 1993.

        The victory finally might have removed Davis from the encompassing shadow of Bob Knight, his former boss who was dismissed two years ago and now is at Texas Tech.

        “It's obvious that Coach Davis has proven to everybody that he can flat-out coach,” said Indiana senior Dane Fife, who along with his teammates has tired of talking about Knight's legacy and Davis' supposed shortcomings. “I think everybody on this team will agree that he has earned everything that has come his way.”

        Davis said his team's savvy and fortitude — more than his coaching — allowed the Hoosiers to stay with some of the nation's best.

        As soon as Indiana started pounding the ball inside and crashing the boards against Duke, the Big Ten co-champions began playing to their potential.

        “If you look at the way we've played this year, we're probably the toughest team in the country,” he said. “I've said that on many occasions. You call it the way you see it.”

        Kent State (30-5) has proved equally tough. This year's team is the first in school history — and first from the Mid-American Conference since Ohio in 1964 — to advance to the round of eight.

        “I never in my wildest dreams felt we'd be here at this particular point and time,” said Kent State coach Stan Heath, who took over the program this year after five years as an assistant at Michigan State.

        Experience has been a key for this year's team, which is led by four seniors.

        Seniors Andrew Mitchell and Trevor Huffman said they are driven by the desire to stay together and keep playing as long as possible.

        “None of us are ready to end our careers yet,” Huffman said. “It's a great feeling to know we've got guys on our team who are going to sacrifice everything for each other — egos, points, rebounds, everything.”

        Huffman said he and his teammates also will be stoked — and somewhat taken aback — to be facing the Hoosiers again.

        “It's going to be weird just because that was our defining moment last year,” he said. “That was the game that put us on the map.”


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