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‘We just need to keep working’: First-half dominance leads men’s basketball past Buffalo

Matthew Brown
Redshirt sophomore Julius Rollins and freshman Jalen Sullinger high-five after a play during the game against Miami University on Jan. 30, 2024.

Over the last four games in January, Kent State men’s basketball has averaged 28 points in the first half. 

Friday, the Flashes scored their second-most points in the opening 20 minutes of the game (52), en route to an 83-52 victory over Buffalo in a Mid-American Conference game. 

The 31-point win is the third time KSU (11-11, 4-6 MAC) has won by 30 or more points this season. Nov. 17 against Hampton University (100-62) and Nov. 30 against Shawnee State University (103-61) were the two other games.

Redshirt senior guard Giovanni Santiago recorded his second double-double of the season – 17 points and 10 assists – as running mate junior guard Jalen Sullinger contributed 17 points. 

Both players converted on five shots from behind the arc. 

The Flashes had four players score in double figures: Santiago, Sullinger, redshirt junior forward VonCameron Davis (10) and graduate student forward Chris Payton Jr. (10).

After starting Tuesday’s game against Miami (OH) 0-for-12 on shots inside the three-point line, the first basket against the Bulls (2-19, 1-8 MAC) came junior center Cli’Ron Hornbeak’s way after grabbing an offensive rebound.

On the ensuing possession, Buffalo converted on a 3-pointer, taking a 3-2 lead, which would be its only lead of the game.

With seven minutes remaining in the half, the Bulls got within two possessions. But KSU answered with an 18-0 scoring run as Santiago and Sullinger each scored six points. 

KSU led 51-22 at halftime after shooting over 60% from the field (20-of-32) and behind the arc (8-of-13).

The Flashes shot 42% from the floor (11-of-26) during the second half, including six three-point shots to preserve its halftime lead. 

The KSU defense limited the Bulls’ offense to 32% (18-of-56) from the field for the game and 21% (6-of-28) from three. 

Kent State forced 11 turnovers, resulting in 18 points, and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, resulting in 15 second-chance points. 

Checking in

In the MAC Preseason poll, KSU was picked to finish second in the conference. 

After nine MAC games, the Flashes find themselves in eighth place at 4-6 – Akron (17-5) sits in first with a 9-1 conference record. 

Even without the success in the win column this season, Davis believes his team can turn the season around. 

“We’re not where we want to be right now,” Davis said. “We were the preseason number two, and I think we’re a way better team than where we are now.”

Coach Rob Senderoff is “disappointed” with where his team is. 

“We just need to keep working to get better, trying to improve game by game,” he said. “We have to do the things that it takes to win games. But it’s certainly challenging. We have to keep these guys’ spirits up, and we just have to continue competing.”

When the MAC Tournament tips off in March, eight teams will qualify. As of now, Kent State holds the final spot. 

Team leaders

KSU has three players averaging more than 10 points per game: Sullinger (14.8), Payton Jr. (13.2) and Davis (12.3).

All three players are top-25 in the MAC in scoring.

Santiago’s 95 assists are the fourth most in the MAC, and he holds the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference at 1.9.

Payton Jr. averages 7.5 rebounds per game, tied for third in the MAC, and has grabbed the fourth most offensive rebounds (54).  

Looking ahead

The Flashes will return to action Tuesday, taking on Western Michigan at 7 p.m. inside the M.A.C. Center. 

KSU has won eight of the last nine matchups against the Broncos (8-13, 5-4 MAC), including the last five in a row. 

The last time WMU won inside the M.A.C. Center was in 2014.

Western Michigan ranks seventh in the conference, averaging 73 points per game, and allows 75 points. 

KSU averages 77 points per game and allows 73. 

Jacob Shondel is sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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About the Contributors
Jacob Shondel, Sports Editor
Jacob is a senior journalism major. He enjoys writing about sports and has previously covered women’s lacrosse and soccer. Contact him at [email protected].
Matthew Brown, Photo Editor
Matthew is a junior photography major. He has a passion for photography and traveling. Contact him at [email protected].

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