By Stephanie Storm
Beacon Journal sports writer
Golden Flashes coach Geno Ford deserves a big portion of the credit for his team's turnaround, a second-year ''players' coach'' having the guts to bench three starting upperclassmen after back-to-back losses to Miami and Bowling Green.
''Sometimes the best way to motivate is to have them sit down at the end of the bench next to the trainer,'' Ford said.
Ford and his staff got the intended response from the demotion of senior guard Chris Singletary and Tyree Evans and junior guard Rodriquez Sherman in the form of consecutive blowouts over Buffalo and rival Akron at the M.A.C. Center.
But there was always the chance that the move could have backfired.
''What you hoped would happen is what has happened,'' Ford said. ''That's that they would dig deep and look inward and be mature about it and take it as a challenge. To be honest, coaching is not an exact science. You never know how certain guys are going to handle things at certain times during the year. They very easily could have sulked and pouted and gotten into themselves.''
To the players' credit, not only did they not seethe and spread discontent, but they also played inspired basketball when they returned and helped the rest of their teammates step up as well.
Instead of letting a big lead get away from them in the second half, as had been the Flashes' maddening pattern most of the season, they raised their defensive intensity in the second half to bury the Bulls and Zips.
Consider that KSU shot 66 percent (19-for-29) in the second half of Saturday's 87-70 victory over the Zips, and have now shot a combined 71 percent (39-for-55) in the second half of the past two games. They have averaged 54 points in the second half of those two games.
''They physically manhandled us,'' Akron coach Keith Dambrot said, and he wasn't exaggerating.
Kent State hadn't had back-to-back 80-point games in MAC play since the 2005-06 season.
Tonight, the Flashes (12-7 overall, 3-2 in the MAC) take their show to Toledo, hoping to continue their roll against the struggling Rockets (3-16, 0-5).
Keeping tabs on Kent State's transformation last week in preparation for tonight's cross-divisional play, Toledo coach Gene Cross was asked in a conference call what he'll need to do to prepare his inexperienced team for the surging Flashes.
''You mean aside from hoping their bus breaks down?'' Cross asked.
Seriously, though, Cross fully grasps what a daunting task playing KSU is now with the veteran Flashes on such a roll.
''You have to stop them in transition,'' he said. ''Rod Sherman and Tyree Evans, they get the ball out and they push it at you. Then they have [Mike] McKee come off the bench and spread the lanes. They push it up there and get easy baskets in transition. They have been scoring the ball and defending unbelievably the last two games.
''Somehow, we have to come out and match their intensity and try to slow them down a little bit.''
Now, it's up to Ford and his staff to work a different kind of magic.
''Our issues have been that we've handled adversity better than we've handled success,'' Ford said.