Kent State drops fourth in a row with midweek loss to Buffalo

Kent+State+junior+Desmond+Ridenour+takes+the+ball+down+the+court+while+guarded+by+University+at+Buffalo+sophomore+Dontay+Caruthers+on+Tuesday%2C+Jan.+17%2C+2017%2C+at+the+Kent+State+M.A.C.+Center.+The+Flashes+lost%2C+69-82.

Kent State junior Desmond Ridenour takes the ball down the court while guarded by University at Buffalo sophomore Dontay Caruthers on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, at the Kent State M.A.C. Center. The Flashes lost, 69-82.

Nick Buzzelli

In his six years as head basketball coach, Rob Senderoff has never led a team to a .500 mark midseason. The 43-year-old has been a part of teams at Kent State that have finished a season .500, but he has never had the same number of wins and losses this late in a season. 

However, after a performance Tuesday at the M.A.C. Center, which he said his team didn’t “play hard enough,” resulting in a 82-69 loss to the State University of New York at Buffalo – the reigning Mid-American Conference champions – Senderoff is faced with the reality of having to strengthen his players, both mentally and physically, despite having 13 regular season games remaining.

“We’re not tough enough, that’s it. Got to get tougher. This league is hard. It’s hard to win games,” Senderoff said. “We’ll figure it out, but we’ve got to figure it out. We’ve played better at stretches and we’re certainly better than we’re playing right now. We got to do a better job.”

Though Buffalo scored the game’s first 10 points, jumped out to a early 13-4 advantage during the first four minutes and limited Kent State to 2-7 from the floor, the Golden Flashes responded with five consecutive points by junior guard Kevin Zabo, who finished with 10 off the bench.

After redshirt-senior forward Jimmy Hall corralled his miss and banked in a layup in the low post to tie the score at 14, he got into a scrum with UB’s Willie Conner. Both players were whistled for a technical foul, but Conner received an ejection for throwing a punch.

For Hall, though, that play sparked Kent State, which was in the midst of an eventual 17-0 run, to take its first lead of the contest a little less than seven minutes in.

“We were just fired up,” said Hall, who finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds. “A little scuffle. He got kicked out, got a tech. (Then) we just started playing like we were supposed to.”

Kent State led for the first 11:40 of the second half, but the Bulls, who scored 17 of the final 22 points, went ahead for good courtesy of Nikola Rakicevic layup with 6:33 remaining.

Despite limiting their turnovers in the first half, something Senderoff continually stressed after last week’s overtime loss to Northern Illinois, the Flashes coughed up the ball 12 times in the second half which led Buffalo to score 21 points off of turnovers throughout the game, 13 of which came during the final 12 minutes.

“The way we’re playing, we’re not going to beat too many teams. Nine assists, nine turnovers, 54 percent field goal defense in the second half … ,” Senderoff said. “Just not winning games doing that. That’s it. Not playing hard enough, not playing to win hard enough.”

Following the loss, Hall said he took some of the blame on himself and said it was his responsibility to get his team back on track heading forward.

“We just got to come together as a team and figure out that we got to defend better. We got to get stops. It starts with me because I’m a senior, so I’ll put it on me that I didn’t get the team [in gear],” he said. “We’ve lost four in a row. It’s simple.”

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