Flashes run into Buffalo buzzsaw, get bounced in MAC semifinals

Kent State junior center Adonis De La Rosa dunks during the Flashes’ season-ending 78-61 loss to Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference tournament semifinals on March 9, 2018.

Cameron Hoover

A season full of twists, turns, wild finishes and exciting moments for the Kent State men’s basketball team ended with an unceremonious thud Friday night, as poor shooting and defensive breakdowns culminated in a 78-61 loss to Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals.

The Flashes (17-17) were in trouble from the start. Much of their game plan revolved around getting the ball to junior center Adonis De La Rosa in the post. From there, he would be able to pass to an open teammate if he was double-teamed or score if he wasn’t.

He never got the opportunity.

Buffalo (25-8) made a concerted effort to limit De La Rosa’s touches early, and Kent State’s big man finished the first half with two points and two rebounds (1-for-2 from the field and 0-for-2 from the foul line).

“We really wanted to get the ball inside, but we didn’t do a very good job of it,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “(Buffalo) did a good job taking things away. We didn’t get enough ball reversals. … They really made an emphasis on not letting (De La Rosa) catch the ball. We didn’t do a good enough job making sure he caught the ball.”

While Buffalo’s forwards shut down Kent State’s bigs, the Bulls’ guards took over the scoring. In particular, junior guard Jeremy Harris made both of his first-half three-point attempts en route to a 13-point performance.

Buffalo ended the first half with a 39-29 lead, shooting 51.6 percent from the floor and 50 percent from behind the arc.

“(Harris) is a good player,” Senderoff said. “They have four all-conference players. You try to take something away, and when they need a big basket, he’s been … an X-factor.”

Kent State showed glimmers of hope in the second half, as back-to-back three-pointers from junior point guard Jalen Avery cut the deficit to 10 points with 11:30 left.

After a media timeout, Buffalo freshman guard Jayvon Graves shot a three-pointer from the left corner with the shot clock winding down. The ball hit the back of the rim, kissed off the backboard and fell in. The shot seemed to take the wind out of the Flashes’ sails.

“We had cut (the lead) a couple times, and it seemed like every time we cut it, they either got a steal for a leakout or they got an offensive rebound,” Senderoff said.

As expected, the game played out physically. During the game’s closing minutes, De La Rosa injured his lower body attempting to block Buffalo’s CJ Massinburg — a play De La Rosa earned a flagrant foul call for. On the next Buffalo possession, Kent State senior guard Kevin Zabo got called for an intentional foul.

Senderoff praised his team’s toughness, but the chippiness of the game didn’t seem to sit well with Buffalo coach Nate Oats, who said Kent State “would rather go out with a fistfight than they would go home with a loss.”

“Just at the end of the game, we need to make sure we’ve got all of our players available for Saturday,” Oats said. “Keep your head. It kind of came to that. I thought the referees did a great job keeping it under control late in the game.”

Avery led the Flashes with 16 points, followed by Zabo’s 14 and junior guard Jaylin Walker’s 12. Sophomore forward Danny Pippen added 10 points and 16 rebounds, including eight offensive, for his sixth double-double of the season.

Harris finished with a game-high 22 points (5-for-6 on three-pointers). Massinburg chipped in with 14, Nick Perkins added 12 and Dontay Caruthers had 11.

Despite the effort, Senderoff didn’t need many words to sum up his team’s final performance.

“We played really hard tonight,” Senderoff said. “But we didn’t play well.”

Buffalo beat Toledo to win the MAC Tournament Saturday to earn a No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will play No. 4 Arizona in the first round.

Cameron Hoover is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].