By Stephanie Storm
Beacon Journal sports writer
Physical defense has been the calling card for Kent State during its current five-game winning streak, and it looks to be key again today as the Golden Flashes go for the 400th win in program history.
Winners of 10 of its past 13 games, KSU hits the road for a two-game road swing through the Mid-American Conference West Division that begins tonight at Eastern Michigan and wraps up Saturday at Central Michigan (10-9, 5-2).
With a streak of 12 successful winning seasons, including a decade of 20 or more wins each season, the Flashes have recorded 148 of those 399 wins in the past 12 years.
They have also been rather successful as of late against the MAC West, winning their past 13 games against their cross-divisional opponents — home or on the road.
The defensive mind-set is something that has come to the Flashes of late. After losing back-to-back games early in conference play to Miami and Bowling Green, KSU coaches were finally able to convince the players that their defense was as key to winning as was their offense.
''After we lost those two MAC games, we sat down and had a team meeting,'' freshman point guard Randal Holt said Monday after the Flashes' 76-46 blowout of visiting Northern Illinois. ''And we came to the conclusion that the reason we were losing wasn't because of our offense. It was because of defense.
''On any given night we might have it going [offensively] or we might not. But we can always go on the other end and 'D' somebody up. Regardless if we're making shots or not, we can control defense.''
Consider that KSU has held 10 of the past 11 opponents to less than 32 percent shooting from 3-point range and that the Flashes lead the MAC with a plus-5.2 rebounding margin.
A large part of the latter statistic is due to being tied for first place in MAC play with 12.6 offensive rebounds per game, which has led to 14.1 second-chance points per game for a plus-6.2 advantage over the opposition.
''Ever since the preseason, coach [Geno Ford] has been preaching defense, defense, defense,'' sophomore center Justin Greene said. ''We've done so many defensive drills that it's stuck in our heads. Everybody knows to hedge, everybody knows to be on the help side and everybody knows to get over the screen or under the screen. Now, it's just become routine for us. So what we have to do is just 'D' everyone up — all the way to the MAC championship.''
Tonight's host, Eastern Michigan (11-10, 3-5), is in fifth place in the six-team West Division, but the Eagles can be dangerous. They snapped a two-game losing skid by knocking off then East Division co-leader Akron in a 62-59 upset Monday at Rhodes Arena.
UA's loss, coupled with Kent State's 30-point victory over the Huskies, allowed the Flashes to claim sole possession of first place in the MAC East.
Even if the Flashes make it through tonight's test unscathed, Saturday's game at division-leading Central Michigan (10-9, 5-2) will be no easy task. Like KSU, CMU is a defensive-minded team.
In a recent win over BGSU, the Chippewas held the Falcons to 38 percent shooting from the field, 9 percent shooting from 3-point range and out-rebounded the host for a 64-52 victory.
''We came in and faced a very good Bowling Green team and did a great job defensively on their talented group of guards,'' CMU coach Ernie Zeigler said. ''It shows that if we focus our efforts on the defensive end of the floor, we will have success.''
It's a message all-too familiar for Kent State's players, as well.