Flashes’ game plan ineffective against nation’s leading scorer

Central Michigan junior guard Marcus Keene shoots over Kent State junior guard Desmond Ridenour at the M.A.C Center on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. Kent State lost 98-105 in overtime.

Nick Buzzelli

There’s a reason Sports Illustrated wrote a three-page story in its Jan. 30 issue that chronicles Marcus Keene’s journey from a Youngstown State University role player two years ago to this season’s unlikely star in for Central Michigan University .

There’s a reason he’s been interviewed multiple times by ESPN and other national media outlets. And there’s a reason he’s on pace to accomplish something that Division I hasn’t seen in 23 years.

Simply put, Keene is a natural scorer. He is a shooting guard who seems as relaxed fighting for defensive rebounds in the paint as he is knocking down clutch three pointers from the wing when the game’s on the line.

“Yeah, he’s a good player. He can shoot the ball, he can score,” a somber Jimmy Hall, slumped in his chair in the media room, said following Kent State’s 105-98 loss to CMU Saturday afternoon in which Keene scored 41 points. “A good player.”

Keene missed his first two shots — both three pointers — but once he drained a fade away baseline jumper four minutes in, the shots began to fall.

First, there was the coast-to-coast layup he had after tipping a defensive rebound to himself near the far foul line. Then, there was the screen set at the top of the key that allowed him to roll to his right and hit a floater in the lane, followed by multiple step-back three pointers.

At times the Flashes were able to contain the 5-foot-9 guard, double teaming him down low and limiting the effectiveness of his midrange game. And, he was whistled for four turnovers during the game, most of which occurred on traveling calls. 

But then again, Keene took over when he needed to the most.

Sitting at 30 points at the end of regulation — his season average — Keene went 4-4 from the floor in overtime, recorded his team’s first eight points of the final frame, and finished with his second double-double (41 points, 10 rebounds) of the season on a 13-26 performance from the field to lead his program to its first win in the M.A.C. Center in 20 years.

While Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff admitted that Keene played well during his postgame press conference, he attributed the loss to his team’s mistakes down the stretch — defensive lapses, fouling a three point shooter, turning the ball over late in possessions — and not necessarily Keene’s heroics.

“You tip your hat to him, but that’s not why we lost. Again, what costs you the game isn’t the overtime tough, contested three’s,” he said. “What costs you the game is in the second half, the two, three, four defensive lapses that allow other guys to get wide open threes or allow (Keene) to get to the rim for layups.”

Because of Keene’s perfect mark from the floor in overtime, which helped spark an 11-1 Central Michigan run, the Flashes were forced to rush three pointers of their own early in the shot clock, something that wasn’t necessarily anticipated prior to tipoff.

“That (attempting 36 three’s) wasn’t part of the game plan,” Hall said. “We just kind of got outside of ourselves.

Though Senderoff didn’t specify what his game plan was to contain Keene, he was quick to point out its ineffectiveness.

“Whatever it was didn’t work.”

Nick Buzzelli is the sports reporter, contact him at [email protected].