After waiting 47 years to celebrate a Mid-American conference championship, Kent is willing to wait a little longer.
John Whorton scored 18 points as Kent earned its first trip to the NCAA tournament with a 49-43 victory over Miami of Ohio in the Mid-American Conference championship game Wednesday night.
"It's very satisfying, but I want to put everything into perspective," Whorton said after Kent fans stormed the court at SeaGate Centre. "Sure, we won and we won a MAC championship, but we don't want to just go to the NCAA tournament, we want to win there."
The Golden Flashes (23-6) had made it to the MAC tournament final three previous times, but lost them by a total of five points. In 47 years as a member of the MAC, they had never before won a conference regular-season or tournament title.
After beating Ohio 68-57 in the semifinals Tuesday night, Kent coach Gary Waters said he was stunned when he walked into the locker room to find the Golden Flashes sitting around instead of yelling and enjoying the moment.
"I said, `Hey, you guys just won a game!' But they said, 'We're not ready to celebrate until we win a championship,"' Waters said.
It was the latest accomplishment in an incredible season for the Golden Flashes. In the preseason they were picked to finish sixth in the conference, only to wind up second.
"That just goes back to a lack of respect," said Whorton, who hit 7-of-11 shots from the field. "We've been trying to get respect all year but it didn't happen. We were underdogs all year. It motivated us."
MAC player of the year Wally Szczerbiak, slowed by a slightly sprained knee, had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Miami but was just 4-of-17 from the field. He wa shadowed all night by Kent's Kyrem Massey.
"We tried to tire him down and send as many people as we could at him," Massey said.
Whorton made two baskets during a late 10-2 run. With the score tied at 32, he hit a turnaround jumper, Ed Norvell drove the lane and tossed in a layup in heavy traffic and -- after taking a charge at the other end -- Eric Thomas hit a pair of foul shots.
After Szczerbiak countered with two free throws, Massey made a jumper from the foul line and Whorton spun away from a defender at the right baseline for a layup.
That made it 42-34 -- The first time either team had led by more than six points.
The Golden Flashes -- one of the worst teams in the conference at the line -- scored their final seven points on free throws, including five in the final 49 seconds.
Ed Norvell added seven points and four assists, and Massey scored nine points for the Golden Flashes.
Kent limited Miami to 33 percent shooting from the field.
"What else can I say? We just struggled mightily and Kent played well," Szczerbiak said. "They forced us to do things we don't normally do."
The Golden Flashes lost a chance to tie for the East Division crown and gain the No. 1 seed in the tournament when they fell to Miami 73-60 on the last day of the regular season.
"What they didn't do last week, they did tonight," Miami coach Charlie Coles said. "They were very, very patient. ... They earned this game."
Miami (22-7), which lost in the final for the second year in a row, now must wait to see if it gets an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Miami had been forced into overtime to beat Bowling Green 60-56 in Tuesday's semifinals. Four starters played at least 40 minutes in that game.
Waters' postgame interview took place in the same room where he first learned of his team's low preseason prediction.
"I was asked what I thought about being picked sixth and I said, `Well, it's going to make me look like a good coach,"' he said with a laugh. "But this? This is amazing."
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