UCLA dashes Kent State’s NCAA hopes

Kent State senior forward Jimmy Hall and senior guard Jon Fleming embrace after Hall fouled out against UCLA during the first-round of the NCAA Tournament in Sacramento, California on Friday, March 17, 2017. Kent State lost 97-80.

Henry Palattella

When Jimmy Hall picked up his fifth foul in the waning moments of Kent State’s NCAA Tournament battle against UCLA, he paused for a moment before walking towards the Kent State bench for the final time in his collegiate career.

Around him, claps and cheers directed toward the senior guard echoed throughout the Golden 1 Center.

Before Hall reached the cushioned chairs of the Flashes bench, he shared a warm embrace with Kent State coach Rob Senderoff, then made his way down the line, hugging senior walk-on Jon Fleming last.

Their two career paths could be no more different: Hall, the big-man who came to Kent State after an embattled path at Hofstra, will finish his Kent State career as the programs’ third all-time scorer and go on to play basketball professionally sometime next year.

Fleming, the walk-on who earned a role as locker room leader, will finish his career with 10 points to his name, but will get to add to his Kent State legacy in another form next year when he’ll join the coaching staff as a graduate assistant.

But for one moment Friday, none of that mattered.

What mattered was that two of them helped lead Kent State on a winding journey in their time there — a journey that reached its end Friday night.

Hall finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds in Kent State’s first-round battle against UCLA, but it wasn’t enough, as the Flashes fell to the Bruins 97-80.

“It was a fantastic journey,” Hall said of his time at Kent State. “It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to, but it was a great ride. Appreciate the coaches, my teammates and just everybody, it’s been a great ride.”

The Flashes came out of the gates sluggish as they only managed to make one of their first 11 shots, which led to UCLA jumping out to a quick 16-2 lead. The Flashes fought back, however, and managed to make it 47-39 going into halftime.

“We didn’t start the game off very well,” Senderoff said after the game. “Started the second half off well, but ultimately we didn’t get enough stops and they’re a very good team.”

The Flashes came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, and eventually cut the UCLA lead down to 54-50 with 16 minutes left.

Part of the reason Kent State was able to jump out at halftime was due to UCLA guard Lonzo Ball being shaken up.

Ball, who was also sporting some gauze on his thumb due to a sprain, started out slow in the second-half, and then helped spark a brutal 29-16 UCLA run that not only gave them an 83-66 lead, but was capitalized by a TJ Leaf slam dunk.

Leaf led all UCLA scorers with 23 points on 8-12 shooting from the field. Ball finished with 15 points and recorded three assists, one of which broke UCLA’s all-time season assists numbers.

Ball, who appeared to have his mind elsewhere during the postgame press conference, was mum on the assist record.

“Credit to my teammates,” Ball said. “Can’t get an assist without them scoring. I thank them.”

Sophomore Jaylin Walker finished with 20 points for the Flashes, while senior Deon Edwin chipped in with 19, which led to Edwin saying Walker can be the future of Kent State’s program.

“I just hope (Walker) takes it and keeps it going for the other guys,” Edwin said of his defensive mentality. “Once you play defense you always have a chance to win.”

The Flashes as a team stayed in the game due to their offensive rebounds, as they totaled 15 offensive rebounds and 15 second-chance points.

Fouls turned out to be the Flashes undoing, however, as they picked up 18 fouls to UCLA’s 11. 11 of Kent State’s fouls came in the second-half.

When asked about what he wanted his Kent State legacy to be, Hall said he hopes he’s remembered more for his heart than his stats.

“(I want to be remembered) for how much energy and how much love I have for the game,” he said. “The points and stuff doesn’t matter.”

Henry Palattella is the sports editor, contact him at [email protected]