Turnovers, poor defense sink shorthanded Flashes against Northeastern

Junior guard Jaylin Walker reacts to a Kent State turnover during the 4th quarter as the Flashes tried to rally late against Northeastern Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, at the M.A.C. Center. Kent State lost, 81-69.

Cameron Hoover

Heading into Monday night’s game against Northeastern, Rob Senderoff never had a losing record during a single season of his seven years spent as the Kent State men’s basketball coach.

An 18-to-8 assist-to-turnover ratio, a 27-to-20 rebounding deficit and a 70 percent three-point shooting performance from Northeastern put an end to that run, as the Huskies downed the Flashes for the second straight year, 81-69.

Kent State’s record now stands at 5-6, and the loss to Northeastern is the team’s third straight. This is the Flashes’ second three-game losing streak of the season.

The Flashes entered the game at a disadvantage, as sophomore forward Danny Pippen didn’t play due to a lower body injury. Junior guard Taishaun Johnson also sat with an undisclosed injury. Junior center Adonis De La Rosa came off the bench after a week where he sat out multiple days of practice due to injury. Freshman forward BJ Duling didn’t play in the second half due to a back injury.

The Flashes got out to a 11-4 lead in the first three minutes before a Northeastern timeout changed the game. The Huskies scored the next eight points and led, 38-31, heading into halftime.

Northeastern came out of the break on fire. The Huskies shot 63.2 percent from the field in the second half, including 70 percent from three-point range and 80 percent on free throws.

Junior guard Vasa Pusica made 12 of his 14 free throws en route to a game-high 21 points for the Huskies.

Senderoff said the team’s sloppy defensive performance in the second half was a major factor in the loss, but it wasn’t the only one.

“Obviously, in the second half, — the whole game, really, — we couldn’t get a stop,” he said. “It’s hard to win when you don’t defend very well. We certainly had too many turnovers, and we’ve got to make all those plays to be successful. Tonight, we didn’t do it, and too often this year, we haven’t done it so far.”

The 18 turnovers were the third-most Kent State has had in a game this season, with the season-high of 24 coming in their previous game, a loss to Wright State. Jaylin Walker finished the game with a team-high six turnovers.

“Six turnovers from your best player is tough,” Senderoff said. “If he has six turnovers, we have to do a better job in other areas. We’ve got to get defensive rebounds. We’ve got to defend a little harder.”

One of the bright spots for Kent State was senior guard Kevin Zabo, who scored 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting, including 3-for-3 three-pointers.

Zabo, whose scoring output tied Walker’s for the Flashes’ most on the night, said even though he could take some positives from his performance, none of it meant anything to him without the win.

“I don’t really care about the percentage I shot tonight,” Zabo said. “I just wanted to come out with the win. I’m just hoping the guys understand it’s going to take all 12 of us; it’s not going to be three guys or four guys. When their names get called, everyone needs to be able to step up.”

Senderoff had trouble finding positives in his team’s performance.

“We need everybody to play well,” he said. “There’s very little margin for error. Eighteen turnovers is too many. Fifty-seven percent field goal defense has got to be the worst of our season. You find one issue, and you try to fix it, but then another issue comes. Guys have got to take ownership of their play and their performance.”

Senderoff continued by saying the team has to be able to put together a complete 40 minutes in future games.

“These are all good teams,” he said. “From this point out, every team we play is going to be Northeastern-type good or better.”

Moving forward, Senderoff said improvement is crucial heading into their next game against Oregon State at 7 p.m. Thursday at the M.A.C. Center. Senderoff called the game an “opportunity,” as the contest marks the first time a Pac-12 team has visited Kent.

“There’s nothing right now that I can point to and (see as a positive),” Senderoff said. “There are so many things we have to get better at.”

Cameron Hoover is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected]