Golden Flashes' Coach Reflects On 'Storybook Year'

By CHRIS DUNCAN, AP Sports Writer

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kent State knew almost immediately its run of surprises was about to end.

If the mass of loud fans wearing Indiana's red and white wasn't enough of a sign that this wasn't going to be the Golden Flashes' day, then the Hoosiers' 8-for-8 streak of 3-pointers certainly was.

Indiana wound up making nearly 80 percent of its 3s and never let up in an 81-69 victory over Kent State in the South Regional final Saturday night to earn a trip to the Final Four.

The Golden Flashes were trying to become the first 10th-seeded team to reach the national semifinals. They also hoped to be the first Final Four representative from the Mid-American Conference.

"After the game, I told the guys to keep their heads up," senior point guard Andrew Mitchell said, "because we've done some great things for our university, for the Mid-American Conference and for our new coach."

The loss ended Kent State's nation-leading 21-game winning streak. The Golden Flashes (30-6), who set conference record for victories, upset No. 7-seeded Oklahoma State, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Pittsburgh to reach the regional final.

And the reward: feeling as though they were playing at Indiana.

"We looked out there and I was trying to figure out how they got so many tickets," Kent State coach Stan Heath said. "Whoever did the ticket job for Indiana should take some credit, because it was just a sea of red in there."

The crowd got louder and louder with each basket, it seemed, as Indiana jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first 12 minutes.

"I haven't seen a shooting display like that in my 13 years of coaching," said Heath, the MAC's coach of the year in his first season at Kent State.

The Golden Flashes hadn't allowed more than 27 points in the first half of a tournament game this year until Indiana led 40-28 at the break.

It was quite a turnaround from last year, when Kent State beat Indiana in the first round of the NCAA tournament. A sign among the Kent State faithful Saturday read: "Flash Back 2001."

At halftime, Heath tried to keep his players' confidence up by telling them that the Hoosiers couldn't possibly go 9-for-11 from 3-point range in the second half, as they had in the opening 20 minutes.

"We went into the locker room and talked about that," Mitchell said. "But when they came out in the second half, they were still on fire. At some point, you realize, 'Hey, these guys aren't missing.'"

Indeed, Indiana went 6-for-8 on 3s in the second half.

Heath was proud of his team.

"I couldn't have asked for a better group of guys for my first season," Heath said. "Our bond grew so strong this year. It was one of those storybook years."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)