Flashes spread out the offense in win over NIU

The Kent State men’s basketball team put forward one of its most dominant overall performances today, defeating Northern Illinois University 80-58 at home.

Northern Illinois (2-11, 1-7 Mid-American Conference) came into the game after nearly a month of inaction due to COVID-19 protocols, and it showed as Kent State (12-5, 9-4 MAC) outmatched the Huskies all day.

After NIU jumped out to a 6-2 lead out of the gate, the Flashes took control of the game and would never hand it back. Kent State’s defense was stifling, forcing NIU into shooting just 32.8 percent from the field and causing 14 turnovers.

“It was about as good a defensive game as we’ve played all season,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “Having been around this league as long as I have, I know that you have to be able to win games when you’re not scoring.”

Defense may be crucial in the MAC, but Kent State did not appear to struggle much on offense today as the Flashes shot 42.6 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from three-point range.

Kent State’s offensive production came from all over the court, as no player scored more than 13 points, but five players were in double digits. The Flashes moved the ball as well as they have all season, combining for 20 assists compared to just 10 turnovers.

“We should have some more guys feeling more and more comfortable because I felt like we had a number of guys contribute,” Senderoff said.

The Flashes were led by junior guard Malique Jacobs, who had 13 points, three rebounds, five assists, a block and two steals. Two consecutive steals to breakaway baskets by Jacobs helped break the back of NIU in the second half.

Senior forward Justyn Hamilton played his best game since sustaining a back injury earlier this season, scoring 12 points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking two shots.

“When we came down for shootaround this morning, I thought [Hamilton] looked as good as he has in a while,” Senderoff said. “And I would assume that he’ll continue to get better as his back starts to feel better.”

Leading Kent State on the boards were senior forwards Danny Pippen and Tervell Beck, who both had eight rebounds. Pippen also scored 11 points and four assists, while Beck had nine points and a block.

Kent State was outrebounded 47-40, but many of NIU’s rebounds came late in the game once the game was already virtually decided.

Running the offense opposite Jacobs was sophomore guard Giovanni Santiago. Santiago dished a team-high six assists, scored 11 points and had two steals with no turnovers.

The final player scoring in double digits for Kent State was a much newer face in redshirt freshman guard Jeremiah Hernandez. Hernandez has stepped into the starting lineup since senior guard Mike Nuga’s injury a few weeks ago.

Hernandez took a serious step forward in his offensive production today as he scored 11 points with one rebound and two steals. He was a perfect 3-3 from beyond the three-point arc.

Kent State is solidly in third place in the MAC standings, with just five games left to play before the conference tournament.

The Flashes’ next contest will be a road trip against Western Michigan University on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

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