Kent State survives late rally to down Miami on the road

Kent State senior forward Jimmy Hall celebrates after beating Miami University at the John D. Millet Hall in Oxford, Ohio, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Kent State won 66-62.

Nick Buzzelli

The capacity of Miami University’s Millett Hall is listed at 6,400. But when a modest crowd of 1,474 is scattered throughout the red and gray chair back seats, the words uttered in the stands — which reverberate off of the vaulted ceiling — are usually audible to the players on the court.

So, when Kent State senior forward Jimmy Hall failed to convert a baseline jumper early in the second half Saturday afternoon, one fan in Miami’s makeshift student section, stationed in a collapsible seat behind the radio table on the far sideline yelled “Jimmy Hall Jr., you’re so soft.”

Then, in unison, the other seven students — most of who were wearing throwback NBA jerseys overtop hooded sweatshirts — echoed the same chant, trying to get in the head of Hall, Kent State’s team captain.

For a while, it worked. Hall missed his first six shots from the field in the second half and Kent State’s 15-point lead dissipated. But, with the senior’s third loss in the cavernous arena looming, he decided to step up his game.

Hall’s turnaround jumper in the lane with 1:20 left enabled the Flashes (13-10, 5-5 Mid-American Conference) to regain the lead for good and stop Miami’s (9-14, 2-8 MAC) late game comeback, winning 66-62, on the road in Oxford, Ohio.  

“It’s always motivation, the fans jawing and stuff. It makes for a good environment,” Hall said after the game. “It just feels good to get a win in here.”

Playing in front of his family and friends, sophomore guard Jalen Avery, who is from nearby Covington, Kentucky, notched eight of Kent State’s first 10 points — two three pointers and a pair of foul shots — and gave his team an early lead.

Despite shooting 35.1 percent from the floor during the first 20 minutes of play, the Flashes scored 21 of their 37 first half points off of three pointers to take a 37-26 advantage into the locker room.

However, sloppy play in the second half, mainly in the form of nine turnovers, allowed the RedHawks to stay in the game.

With 2:15 remaining, Miami’s Jake Wright knocked down a three to tie the score at 59 and, on the ensuing possession, Kent State freshman guard Mitch Peterson was whistled for the loose ball foul in front of the home team’s bench.

Miami guard Abdoulaye Harouna then went 1-2 from the line to give the Redhawks their first lead of the contest, but Hall’s jumper on the other end of the floor iced the win.

“Winning time for us and (Hall) made some big plays down the stretch as he always does,” head coach Rob Senderoff said. “We had a number of guys step up and make some big plays to help us get this win.”

Though the fans’ trash talk persisted throughout the contest, Hall kept telling himself to look for the open pass when he was being pressured in the low post.

“My teammates keep encouraging me, telling me to keep going. Came in with the mindset to share the ball and if they double, triple team me I got to kick it, there’s going to be an open man,” said Hall, who finished with 12 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. “That was my mindset the whole game. And then the second half they had to back up and play one-on-one and that’s when I turned it up.”

Kent State returns home Tuesday to face Bowling Green State University, which bounced the Flashes from last season’s MAC Tournament. The game is set to start at 7 p.m.

Nick buzzelli is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected].