Late rally powers NIU over Kent State


Kent State sophomore guard Jaylin Walker goes up for a drunk in transition against Northern Illinois University at the M.A.C. Center on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2016. Kent State lost 70-74 in overtime.

Nick Buzzelli

Late in the first half Tuesday night against Northern Illinois University, with Kent State holding a lead, head coach Rob Senderoff opted to switch from his team’s conventional man-to-man defense to a 1-3-1 zone to limit the Huskies’ ability to drive the ball and score easy buckets.

Needless to say, the adjustment was successful. During the first 20 minutes of play, Northern Illinois shot 24.1 percent from the floor, committed 10 turnovers and only scored 10 points in the paint.

But as the game progressed, so did Kent State’s unforced errors — forcing Senderoff to have to, once again, implement man-to-man defense.

This allowed Northern Illinois (10-6, 2-1 Mid-American Conference) the ability to run in transition and score 24 points off turnovers in the second half en route to a 74-70 overtime win over the Flashes (9-7, 1-2 MAC) at the M.A.C. Center.  

“The reason we couldn’t get to it in the second half more was because the half-court defense … You can’t defend (2-on-0, 2-on-1, 3-on-1 off of turnovers) in zone,” Senderoff said following the loss, Kent State’s second consecutive. “You got to have less live ball turnovers … You can’t win games with 23 turnovers. You just can’t consistently.”

Early in the second half, Northern Illinois coach Mark Montgomery noticed the Flashes’ defensive setup and instructed his players to attack the basket since sophomore center Adonis De La Rosa was in foul trouble for most of the game.

“When they’re in man, the man is a little easier to take it through them and take it to them. We were trying to be aggressive going to the basket, but then we struggled when they went 1-3-1,” Montgomery said. “I thought it kind of helped us get to the half. I thought they outplayed us in the first half. I was just hoping to get to the second half and then we could talk about a few things, regroup and that’s what we did.”

After trailing by seven with six minutes remaining, Northern Illinois used a 12-4 run, capped off by an easy layup by sophomore guard Laytwan Porter, to tie the game at 64 with 1:16 left.

Northern Illinois’ 6-foot-11 senior center Marin Maric was fouled on the ensuing possession after grabbing an offensive rebound, but missed both shots from the charity stripe, giving Kent State a chance to win it with 22 seconds left.

However, sophomore Jaylin Walker — who finished with 22 points — missed an off-balance jump shot from the right baseline as time expired, sending the game into overtime.

The Huskies took their first lead of the contest a little over one minute in and went 6-8 from the free-throw line in the final five minutes.

“They just executed off our turnovers,” said senior Deon Edwin, who finished with 18 points and five rebounds. “As soon as we turned it over they scored on it or we fouled them, and they went to the foul line and knocked them down, so nothing changed.”

Down three with 25 seconds left, Walker once again had the ball in his hands and tried to hit a three-pointer while being guarded by two Northern Illinois defenders.

But his shot was off the mark.

For the first time all season, redshirt senior Jimmy Hall, who came into the game averaging 17.4 points and 11 rebounds per game, was not inserted into the starting lineup. Throughout the night, he only tallied seven points and five rebounds in 26 minutes while going 1-6 from the floor.

However, according to Senderoff — who said it’s an “internal deal” — Hall will start at Saturday’s game against Western Michigan University.

“It certainly didn’t work. (Hall) didn’t play well and he usually does respond well to anything like that,” he said. “Tonight was a tough night for him; tough night for all of us.”

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