Kent State’s defense shines to beat Miami

Despite giving up a 17-0 run and trailing by as much as 11, the Kent State men’s basketball team overcame a stout defense to beat the University of Miami 77-68 at home.

In addition to an early deficit, Kent State was also without star guard and senior Mike Nuga, who will likely miss the remainder of the season due to a leg injury he suffered against Central Michigan University on Saturday.

Kent State (10-4, 7-3 Mid-American Conference) jumped out to a 16-10 lead behind 11 early points from senior forward Danny Pippen, but when Pippen received a technical and was taken out of the game by coach Rob Senderoff, Miami (8-6, 5-4 MAC) went on a tear.

“We scored so easily in the first three [or] four minutes of the game that I feel like our focus was sort of lost,” Senderoff said.

The Red Hawks scored 17 unanswered points while going on a 22-2 run before Kent State got its bearings and stopped the onslaught. 

Late three pointers from senior forward Tervell Beck and junior guard James Jordan gave the Flashes some momentum back going into halftime down 37-30.

Beck would finish the game with 11 points, three rebounds and an assist, while Jordan finished with six points, five rebounds and two assists.

In the second half, behind the return of Pippen and some physical defensive play, Kent State took control of the game, outscoring Miami 47-31 in the final 20 minutes.

“We had a heck of a second half,” Senderoff said. “One of our best defensive efforts this year and we had some huge plays [on offense].”

Pippen, who was awarded the Lou Henson Player of the Week award for his play last week, scored 30 points along with five rebounds, an assist and a block. He has scored at least 30 points three times this season.

Senderoff specifically praised the performance of junior guard Malique Jacobs, calling him “the best defender on our team by far.” 

Jacobs’ contributions came from all over the floor, as the North Carolina native grabbed a team-high eight rebounds, while dishing six assists and scoring six points of his own.

The physical play of the Flashes in the second half was exemplified by junior forward Gabe O’Neal, who used his size advantage to dominate Miami’s smaller lineup inside.

“Gabe really played great after struggling for a few games in a row,” Senderoff said. “He really helped us.”

O’Neal had 10 points and seven rebounds, three of which came on the offensive glass (most on the team) and a block.

The Flashes used physical play to draw defensive fouls, which helped Kent State get into the bonus less than six minutes into the second half.

“[Physicality] was a big point of emphasis at halftime,” Senderoff said. “It was a focus adjustment, in terms of what we needed to do and how we needed to play.”

Kent State would score 18 points on 26 free throws, compared to just nine on attempts twelve for Miami. Pippen had the same stat line on free throws (9-12) as Miami’s entire team.

Sophomore guard Giovanni Santiago continued to blossom into one of the best shooters in the MAC, scoring 10 points including three of his five three-point attempts. His efficiency extends beyond the arc though, as Santiago gave out five assists and grabbed two steals and four rebounds.

Kent State is now firmly in third place after defeating fourth place Miami, and is in a position to snatch second place from the University of Akron, following the Zips’ 91-76 drubbing at the hands of first place University of Toledo.

The Flashes and Zips will meet at the M.A.C. Center on Friday, Feb. 5 with tipoff at 7 p.m.