Thursday, March 11, 2004

Mason may be key for Miami

Junior brings RedHawks energy

By Mark Schmetzer
Enquirer contributor

College Basketball scores
Special Championship Week section
Miami would welcome another strong performance by senior guard Juby Johnson, but the key to the RedHawks ending recent Mid-American Conference Tournament struggles may be a return to form by junior guard Chet Mason.

The 6-foot-5 Johnson averaged 30.5 points per game over Miami's last two games and 29.3 over the last three.

Mason, on the other hand, went 0-for-3 from the field while going scoreless in the first half of Miami's regular-season finale against Marshall last Saturday. That left him a combined 2-for-18 in his last five halves of action.

But Mason snapped out of his scoring slump in the second half, going 4-for-8 with 11 points to help the RedHawks turn a seven-point halftime deficit into a 74-70 victory.

"In the first half, I wasn't going hard," Mason said. "Juby came in and got in my ear. When I hear him talking, that picks me up."

"I felt good when I saw Chet getting himself ready to play," Miami coach Charlie Coles said. "I was worried in the first half. When Chet is sparking us, that makes us a better team. I told him with 11 minutes to go, 'We're all right. You're in the game.' "

Keeping Mason on track would help the RedHawks (17-10 overall, 12-6 MAC) snap a streak of two consecutive tournament quarterfinal losses when they meet Ball State (14-14, 10-8) at 2 p.m. today at Cleveland's Gund Arena. If the RedHawks win, they will meet the winner of the noon game between Bowling Green and Kent State at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.

The championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2).

Third-seeded Miami is shooting for its first tournament championship since 1997 and fourth since the conference started postseason play in 1980. That 1997 title was the first of five consecutive appearances by the RedHawks in the title game.

Miami split its regular-season series with the Cardinals. Ball State advanced in the tournament with a 76-72 win at home over 11th-seeded Akron, the Cardinals' fourth win in their last five games.

Miami earned a first-round bye.

"When you win a Monday night game, I think you go into the quarterfinals with some confidence, so there is a danger in not playing until Thursday," Coles said.

Mason is second behind Johnson in scoring and leads the team in assists and rebounds. According to Stats, Inc., he is second in the nation, trailing only Xavier's Romain Sato in rebounding among guards with an average of 7.74 per game.

"Chet's done everything for us," Coles said. "A guy gets tired over the course of a season. It's not his attitude. You're going to have to take his mistakes if you're going to take the other things."

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