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The independent news website of The Kent Stater & TV2


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Men’s basketball sends off seniors with a win

Debonaire Wright
Center Cli’Ron Hornbeak attacks the basket on Saturday against Central Michigan.

Kent State men’s basketball team celebrated Senior Day with an overtime win over Central Michigan 79-73.

“Great win on senior night, and we had a number of guys step up the way we needed to,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “They will remember this forever, and we still have two more games left and gotta continue to get better as we move forward.”

Graduate forward Chris Payton Jr. and senior guard Giovanni Santiago were honored pregame.

Kent State was without Payton Jr., who suffered a season-ending wrist injury against Buffalo on Feb. 27. Payton Jr. averaged 12.6 points and led the Flashes (14-14, 7-8) with 7.4 rebounds per game.

One thing that Payton Jr. wants to be remembered for is keeping the tradition.

“The habits that they instilled in players and just making sure we are a spitting image of that,” Payton Jr. said. “Obviously, I’m not on the court but off the court, just being myself.”

Guard Jalen Sullinger looks down court against Central Michigan on Saturday. (Debonaire Wright)

The teams last met on Jan. 13 when the Chippewas (16-12, 10-5) defeated the Flashes 77-62.

Both teams struggled to find their footing early as CMU built a 14-7 lead after ten minutes of play. The Chippewas scored all 14 of their points in the paint.

Kent State started to settle in as they went on a 13-6 run to tie the game up at 20 with five minutes left in the half. 

Junior guard Jalen Sullinger, Santiago and graduate forward Tyem Freeman all hit three-pointers to spark the run.

Both teams traded baskets to finish out the half, but the Chippewas pulled away to lead 28-25 and headed into the locker room. 

Santiago led all scorers with eight points. The Flashes shot 25% from the field and 26% from three. CMU 41% from the field and 8% from three. The Chippewas earned the lead by outscoring Kent State 20-6 in the paint. 

The Flashes had four steals in the half but only converted five points from those turnovers.

In the second half, Kent State made their mark in the paint as right away junior center Cli’Ron Hornbeak scored four points down low. 

“Cli’Ron gave us everything he had, 30 minutes,” Senderoff said. “He hadn’t played that many minutes, maybe all season, and that was great for him and great for our team.”

Hornbeak tallied eight points and nine rebounds.

Senior Giovanni Santiago at the flashes last home game on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Debonaire Wright)

The Flashes then gained their first lead of the game behind a Sullinger three-pointer to make the score 34-33 with 15 minutes remaining. 

Kent State built their lead to 43-38 before the Chippewas went on a 10-0 run to regain the lead 48-43 with 10 minutes remaining.

After the run, the Flashes responded well behind a Freeman three-ball and a Sullinger and-one to tie the game at 54 with six minutes remaining.

The Chippewas broke the tie with a layup before Sullinger poured in another three-pointer to take the lead 59-58 at the final media timeout.

Junior forward VonCameron Davis scored a floater for the Flashes before CMU converted two baskets to lead 62-61 with one minute left. 

The Chippewas converted a dunk to take a 64-62 lead, followed by a Davis split at the free-throw line. 

The Flashes got the stop they needed before setting up a Sullinger and Davis pick and roll. Davis caught the ball and the paint and drew a foul with two seconds remaining. Davis kept his composure and buried both free throws to tie the game at 64 and send it to overtime.

Mike Bekelja runs back on defense after hitting a go ahead 3-pointer in overtime. (Debonaire Wright)

“I had a lot of confidence, even though he missed one before that. [Von] has been in some big games,” Santiago said. “I told the guys right away when he got fouled, leave him alone; he’s gonna knock it down.”
In overtime, Santiago led the Flashes with all seven points while the Chippewas hung around to trail 71-69 with two and a half minutes left.

Both teams traded baskets before Santiago scored his ninth point of the overtime to give the Flashes a 74-73 lead.

“I’m just trying to make plays to help the team win,” Santiago said. “That’s the way that I play all the time, and tonight I was able to get a couple points, but I’m just thinking about winning.”

Junior guard Mike Bekelja hit an electrifying three-pointer with 30 seconds left to give Kent State a 77-73 lead. 

“(Mike) has been such a competitive, tough kid who’s really helped us in a lot of ways, but you don’t see it on the stat sheet,” Senderoff said. “I’m really happy for him.”

Senior Chris Payton Jr receives his framed jersey ahead of the seniors last home game on March 2, 2024. (Debonaire Wright)

The Flashes got a stop, and Hornbeak converted at the free throw line to end the game, 79-73.

Santiago with 21 points, including nine in overtime while Sullinger had 16 points. 

Both guards led the way for the Flashes and controlled the game, as Kent State only turned the ball over twice. 

Next up, Kent State will head to Ball State to faceoff with the Cardinals on March 5 at 7 p.m.

“We are gonna be confident if we get a chance to go up to Cleveland,” Senderoff said. “We have two more road games, and I’m hoping we can make it.”

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

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