Zabo’s 24 points help Flashes secure win over Ohio

Kent State freshman forward BJ Duling jumps for a rebound over an Ohio defender Friday, Jan. 12, 2018. Kent State won the game, 70-69. 

Cameron Hoover

Even the ice storm raging outside the M.A.C. Center wasn’t enough to cool down Kevin Zabo Friday night.

The senior guard’s career-best 24 points on 8-for-15 shooting, including 4-for-7 from three-point range, led Kent State (8-9, 2-2 Mid-American Conference) over Ohio (8-8, 1-3 MAC).

Ohio had a chance to take the lead with 21 seconds left after a hook shot from junior center Adonis De La Rosa put Kent State up by a point. After a timeout, Ohio senior guard Mike Laster dribbled to the baseline, stepped back and released a high-arcing jumper that came up short. After a scramble, Zabo secured his sixth rebound and was fouled with 3.1 seconds left.

After missing the first free throw, Zabo sealed the game by doing something he said he had never done before:

He missed on purpose.

After Zabo whipped the ball off the front of the rim, the rebound bounced out to Jalen Avery, who dribbled out the clock to complete the 70-69 win.

“That was all (coach Rob Senderoff’s) call,” Zabo said. “I actually didn’t do what he asked me to do. He asked me to miss softly, … but I missed it straight on the rim. Luckily, it came out to Jalen. We practice that too. We want those two guards there ready to catch those tip-outs. We got lucky, but we got the stop at the end. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

The win for the Flashes comes after a tough loss at Miami (OH) where the team was down by as many as 29 points in the first half.

Zabo said coming back from that loss was an emphasis for the team.

“We need to protect our house,” he said. “It’s a tough league; anybody can beat anybody. One thing we do have to make sure is that we take care of our home court, and we did that tonight.”

Kent State junior guard and leading scorer Jaylin Walker added 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting, including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. Walker came off the bench after sitting out the second half of the big loss in Oxford.

“He had a rough game against Miami (OH), and we needed to just change things up a little bit,” Senderoff said of the decision not to start Walker. “During the course of the year, everyone has some ups and downs. Jaylin responded very well tonight. I think he played one of his best games.”

Freshman guard Teyvion Kirk led the Bobcats with 17 points and added seven rebounds and two assists. Laster scored 11 points, and junior guards Gavin Block and Jordan Dartis had 10 points apiece.

De La Rosa and senior guard Desmond Ridenour each scored eight points for the Flashes.

Kent State’s win further separated the gap between the team’s performances at home and on the road. The Flashes are now 6-2 in the friendly confines of the M.A.C. Center compared to just 2-7 on the road and at neutral sites.

Walker’s shooting percentages mirror the team’s results in terms of home/road splits: He is shooting 47 percent from the field and 45.3 percent from three-point range at home, but just 30.8 percent from the field and 17.8 percent on threes on the road and at neutral sites.

Senderoff had no explanation for the discrepancy.

“Generally, we’ve been a better road team in my coaching years, but this year, it hasn’t quite been that way,” he said. “We don’t play on the road again until next Saturday, so we have to figure out a way to compete there. But first, we have a big game Tuesday at home. We’re going to have to continue to fight and play with the energy and enthusiasm that we played with tonight.”

The Flashes will look to build off the victory when they return to the court to host Western Michigan (10-6, 2-1 MAC) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the M.A.C. Center.

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