Kent State in flux as tipoff approaches: MAC basketball tournament preview


Danny Pippen (5) swats a layup attempt from Point Park University during Kent State’s 90-41 win. Dec. 2, 2020.

With the Kent State men’s basketball team set to play in the Mid-American Conference tournament quarterfinals today at 1:30 p.m. against five seed Ohio University, is it still unclear what the Kent starting lineup will look like.

The Flashes appear to be in good position to make a deep run in Cleveland as the four seed, with a 12-6 MAC record (15-7 overall) and an all-MAC first teamer at the helm in senior forward Danny Pippen.

But in Kent State’s final game of the season, visiting the University at Buffalo, Pippen and fellow senior forward Justyn Hamilton were missing from the court and did not appear to be on the bench, either.

Pippen and Hamilton were benched by a “coach’s decision,” according to Coach Rob Senderoff and no further details were given about their status. Despite injuries to both players in the past, Kent sealed a spot in the MAC tournament, but the players’ absence from the bench raises concern about their availability today.

The team dids not provide any further information on the status of two of the best big men in the conference and uncertainty looms as tip off approaches.

Kent State has one of the most productive front courts in the MAC, ranking second in the league in rebounds per game, offensive rebounds per game and rebounding margin.

Kent State has a reasonable road to the MAC championship game, but that path grows exponentially harder if Pippen and Hamilton do not suit up.

Pippen is the third-leading scorer in the MAC with 19.2 points per game, averaging 8.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. 

Hamilton is ninth in the conference in rebounds per game and third in offensive rebounds per game. He also averages 9.2 points per game.

Yesterday, Pippen was announced as an all-MAC first teamer, while injured senior guard Mike Nuga was named to the third team. Junior guard Malique Jacobs was named to the all-defensive team.

Jacobs will serve as Kent State’s main guard alongside sophomore Giovanni Santiago, who is one of the best three-point shooters and passers in the league.

Jacobs and Santiago have complimented each other well and stepped up their production since the loss of Nuga. They combine to average 19.1 points and 7.7 assists per game.

If Pippen and Hamilton do not play, senior forward Tervell Beck will most likely take center stage in the front court.

Beck averages 11.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game and is having the best season of his collegiate career.

The Cleveland native played well in the absence of Pippen and Hamilton against Buffalo, tying his career-high of 19 points which he set just a game prior against the University of Miami.

The rest of Kent State’s front court will likely be filled in by junior Gabe O’Neal and sophomore Evan Bainbridge. If Kent State is missing players and these two have to see serious minutes, the Flashes will be playing with much less game experience than in previous outings. 

O’Neal has played just over 11 minutes per game but was effective in the time he sees, averaging 4.8 points and three rebounds per game.

Bainbridge did not see much playing time this season, with just 47 minutes across 11 games to start the season. 

The Stow native was called on to start against Buffalo and played 34 minutes, scoring seven points while tallying six rebounds and one steal, block and assist each.

In Kent State’s previous matchup against OU, the Flashes won 89-79 in Athens. 

This game will be different though, as Nuga scored 16 points in that game and if Pippen and Hamilton do not play the Flashes will be missing an additional 28 points of production.

Owen is sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]