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Men’s basketball first-half woes lead to rivalry loss

Cadie Pierce
Akron guard Ali Ali attempts to drive by Kent State junior guard Jalen Sullinger early in the Zips’ 77-71 win over the Golden Flashes on Jan. 19, 2023. Ali scored 23 points, tying the game high with teammate Enrique Freeman.
Golden Flashes’ highlights from the rivalry basketball game against Akron Friday night.

After falling behind 17-4 in the first minutes of Friday’s game, the Kent State men’s basketball team could not complete the comeback, as Akron won 77-71. 

“Give them a ton of credit,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “We didn’t make quite enough plays, but certainly the effort was there the whole game.”

The Flashes (9-9, 2-4) battled back to decrease the lead to 17-11 before the Zips (14-4, 6-0) responded again with a 14-0 run leaving six minutes remaining in the half.

“We were not ready to play, and there was a lot of overthinking,” redshirt senior Giovani Santiago said. 

Kent State redshirt junior forward VonCameron Davis puts in the short jumper in the face of Akron’s Ali Ali during the Akron game on Jan. 19, 2024. Davis was one of four Golden Flashes in double-figures, scoring 10 points. (Cadie Pierce)

The Zips commanded the rest of the half and entered the locker room with a 36-22 advantage.

The Flashes shot 26% from the field in the half before ans shot 53% in the second half.

“The first half, we didn’t get a 50/50 ball, and we didn’t appear to get a loose ball,” Senderoff said. “They outplayed us at every level in the first half, but we dug ourselves such a hole that we were trying to get out of the whole night.”

Kent State continued to hang around early in the second half, leading to a 59-44 deficit with ten minutes left.

The Flashes then turned the game around with a three-pointer from graduate transfer guard Tyem Freeman and a thunderous dunk from graduate student forward Chris Payton. 

“Coming into the game, I did want to perform well,” Freeman said. “I had to settle into the game and not try and be the hero when that wasn’t what was needed.”

Santiago led the team with 16 points and Freeman scored a season-high 14 points to go along with four rebounds. Two other Flashes reached double digits: sophomore guard Reggie Bass (11) and redshirt junior forward VonCameron Davis (10).

Kent State continued to try to battle back in the game, coming as close as 70-67 with 1:46 remaining. 

Kent State redshirt senior guard Giovanni Santiago (left) looks for an outlet, following redshirt junior forward VonCameron Davis’s steal of Akron forward Sammy Hunter during the Akron game on Jan. 19, 2024. (Cadie Pierce)

The Zips used free-throw shooting from forward Ali Ali to close out the ball game.

“We have proven all season we can play with anybody when we play the right way and we’re playing hard,” Santiago said. “I feel like we always had that we just have to do it for 40 minutes.”

As a team, KSU shot 41% from the field and converted on nine three-pointers. The Zips shot 47% from the field and converted on seven three-pointers. 

The Flashes attempted 29 free throws, making 20.

“Our game plan coming into this one was trying to be aggressive,” Freeman said. “Just driving to get to the rim and create some type of contact with anybody to try and

Before tip-off, the student section lights up the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center with their cellphone lights, and passing the giant banner welcoming the Golden Flashes’ men’s basketball team before the Akron game on Jan. 19, 2024. (Cadie Pierce)

get easy points at the free throw line.”

Up next, Kent State will travel to Bowling Green (13-4, 4-1) for another conference matchup Tuesday at 7 p.m.

“We’ll have to be ready, and I believe in our guys; we have to get the consistency of that second half and really 25 minutes,” Senderoff said. “We have to find a way for that to be who we are at all times.”

Matthew Franos is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Cadie Pierce, Photographer
Cadie Pierce (she/they) is a Senior Integrative Studies major and Photojournalism minor and staff photographer for KentWired/Kent Stater. Cadie can be reached at [email protected].

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