Pippen, De La Rosa fuel second-half comeback as Flashes hand Buffalo first MAC loss

Adonis De La Rosa goes up for two of his 20 points in Kent State’s 82-79 win over Buffalo.

Cameron Hoover

Adonis De La Rosa said it was “just an ordinary game,” but it wasn’t.

Heading into Tuesday night’s contest at Kent State, Buffalo was a perfect 8-0 in Mid-American Conference play and sat atop the conference’s East division. The Bulls were first in MAC play in scoring (86.4 points per game), third in opponent scoring (70.5 points per game) and first in scoring margin, beating those eight opponents by 15.9 points per game.

Buffalo shot 69 percent from the floor in the first half and jumped out to a 47-34 lead at halftime. Two of the Flashes’ leading scorers, Jaylin Walker and Kevin Zabo, had combined for four points.

The Flashes looked like they were going to be the next victim of the Bulls’ winning streak.

But they didn’t.

Kent State chipped away at the Bulls’ advantage the whole second half, but every time the Flashes went on a run early in the period, Buffalo had an answer. The score wasn’t within 10 points until there was 14:15 left in the game.

“We were battling and battling, and we had a couple hiccups,” sophomore forward Danny Pippen said. “But we stayed the course.”

Pippen stayed the course just long enough to win the game — on both sides of the ball.

After a timeout in the final minute with the score tied at 77, junior point guard Jalen Avery called a play to send the ball down low to De La Rosa, who had been facilitating from the post all night. Coach Rob Senderoff said he had no input on this play call, and he was completely fine with it.

“Everybody was in agreement,” Senderoff said. “ … Sometimes you just stand there and clap.”

De La Rosa caught the ball and backed down Buffalo’s Nick Perkins. Jeremy Harris, who was guarding Pippen, came to double-team De La Rosa. This left Pippen wide open, and De La Rosa served him a perfect pass as Pippen made the layup to give the Flashes a 79-77 lead with 35.7 seconds left.

The team hadn’t led since a 2-0 advantage 20 seconds into the contest.

On the other end of the court, Buffalo point guard Wes Clark blew past Avery, only to be met at the rim by Pippen, who snuck off the weak side to swat the layup and seal the game.

Free throws from Avery sealed the game after an on-court scuffle led to Walker and Perkins being ejected, and Kent State (12-10, 6-3 MAC) handed Buffalo (16-6, 8-1 MAC) its first conference loss, 82-79.

The Flashes outscored the Bulls, 48-32, in the second half.

“It’s a great win, especially with how we won the game — down 18 in the first half, down 13 at halftime,” Senderoff said. “We continued to battle back. I’m really proud of our guys — tremendous fight, resilience, toughness and all the attributes that you want the team to show.”

Pippen made eight of his 10 free throws en route to a game- and career-high 21 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. De La Rosa finished with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. Avery scored 14 points and added six assists while only turning the ball over once.

Harris led Buffalo with 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Perkins scored 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting before his disqualification, and Davonta Jordan and Clark each added 12 points.

The Flashes will hit the road to face Bowling Green (13-9, 4-5 MAC) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Stroh Center.

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