Defense, Jackson’s play keys to KSU’s victory


KSU vs. OU

Richie Mulhall

Box Score

This season, the Kent State men’s basketball team’s best offense has been its defense, and Saturday night’s win over Ohio was no exception to the team’s newfound philosophy.

The men held the Bobcats’ leading scorer to just three points and didn’t even let Ohio see 60 points, as the Flashes overwhelmed the Bobcats, 69-59, inside the M.A.C. Center.

“I thought this was the best home atmosphere we’ve had outside of an Akron game maybe since I’ve been here, so I hope our guys did enough to keep people coming back because we played hard and played well,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “(It was) a great overall win for us.”

Senderoff said Saturday’s performance was probably the team’s best defensive effort so far this season.

“(The Bobcats) had 40 at the five-minute mark, so for that (first) 35 minutes, that’s about as good as you can guard.”

The Flashes’ impenetrable defense shut down Ohio’s offense and kept the Bobcats cold through the first half, holding Ohio to 19 points and  25 percent shooting from the field.

Turning the ball over also played a factor in the Flashes’ win, as Kent State forced 14 turnovers and capitalized on them with 13 points off turnovers as opposed to Ohio’s eight points off turnovers.

“I think everyone was tuned into the game plan,” redshirt senior Derek Jackson said. “We knew certain people’s strengths and their weaknesses, so I think we were on the same page, locked in and playing defense.”

The Flashes have changed their identity from a shoot now, ask questions later squad to a defense-first club, holding opponents to 60.5 points per game and outscoring opponents by an average score of 32.5-29.8 going into Saturday’s game.

“We’re just taking it one game at a time and just trying to come out and play our hardest that game with a defense mindset first,” Jackson said.

Hall said the overall team defense has been good this season, but the effort starts with Jackson.

“He’s our defensive stopper,” Hall said. “When he’s in it defending, we’re all going to get into it.”

Jackson, who typically relies on his defense to produce offense, exploded in the second half, putting up 12 points after only scoring six in a quiet first half.

He only attempted nine shots in his team-leading 18-point performance, but he made the shots he took count.

“He’s really an unselfish player, just efficient,” Senderoff said. “His mindset is to defend, usually tries to get a steal and maybe that leads to layup. Tonight he hit some threes, we ran a backdoor play for him that he had a dunk. He’s a really good player and continues to do what it takes to help us win.”

In terms of scoring, Kent State still poured on the offense, with four different players scoring in double-figures.

“To me, it’s good to see it’s good to see other guys step up and different guys step up,” Senderoff said.

Jackson led the way for the Flashes with 18 points on an efficient 5-of-9 shooting effort. His teammates, senior guard Kris Brewer and redshirt sophomore forward Jimmy Hall, were right behind him with 14 and 12 points, respectively.

Ortiz followed with 10 points and a perfect 2-for-2 shooting from beyond the arc.

Shutting down Ohio

Redshirt senior Javarez Willis and senior Maurice Ndour of Ohio form one of the MAC’s top scoring tandems, averaging 15.1 points per game and 14.6 points per game, respectively, heading into Saturday’s game.

However, they only combined for 22 points Saturday night.

Willis, Ohio’s leading scorer, only scored three points with Jackson guarding him. He went scoreless in the first half, shooting 0 for 3 from the field with two turnovers.

In the second half, his offensive prowess remained stagnant and proved to be a non-factor, as he only scored three points of offense on a lackluster 1-of-7 shooting.

Jackson, Saturday’s unnamed MVP of the game, guarded Willis most of the game and kept him in check, rendering him virtually scoreless all night long.

“We put Derek on every team’s best perimeter scorer almost exclusively,” Senderoff said. “Willis is a really good player, and I thought Derek just did a really good job making it difficult for him to even get shots off.”

Junior forwards Khaliq Spicer and Chris Ortiz allowed senior Maurice Ndour to lead the Bobcats in scoring with 19 points but held him to 33 percent shooting from the field, almost 12 percentage points off his season average going into Saturday’s game (44.5 percent).

“Chris Ortiz has strung together a few good games in a row, and Khaliq today, defensively, I thought he was great, and I think it had a big impact on the game,” Senderoff said.

Hall vs. Ndour

The highly anticipated matchup between Hall and Ndour didn’t disappoint and ended up being what everyone expected it to be.

Hall and Ndour went back and forth, attacking each other the entire game, both leading their teams in scoring headed into halftime with nine and seven points, respectively.

Ndour eventually got the better of Hall in the score column, outscoring Hall 19-12, but Hall along with Spicer and Ortiz, kept frustrating Ndour throughout the night.

“We were just going at it,” Hall said. “He’s a great player, and I just wanted to prove myself. I really don’t like to think about my opponent or anybody, I just like playing for my teammates and coaches, but it was a good battle.”

In the MAC, Hall ranks seventh in scoring (14.2 points per game), seventh in rebounding (7.2 rebounds per game) and third field goal percentage (.500).

Hall has now scored in double-figures in 15 games this season and became the first player to score in double-figures in his first eight games in a Kent State uniform since Jay Peters, who scored in double-figures in the first 12 games of the 1986-87 season.

It takes two halves

The Flashes got off to a hot start in the first half thanks to Hall, who recorded four of Kent State’s first seven points against the Bobcats.

With Hall leading the way with nine first-half points, Kent State jumped out to a commanding lead with an early 7-0 run to start the game.

“We put an emphasis on (starting well) because we didn’t start off that well against Eastern Michigan, so knowing that that was an emphasis going into the game,” Senderoff said. “Had we started off down 7-0, it wouldn’t have been what we were looking for. When you’re down you got to be able to dig yourself out, which we’ve been able to do, and when you’re up, you got to try to maintain the lead, which we did for the most part.”

The Bobcats whittled away at the early lead and narrowed Kent State’s advantage to one.

After a 9-8 lead, the advantage see-sawed back and forth for a while, with Kent State scoring three straight baskets via a Jackson 3-pointer, a Brewer 3-pointer and a Hall layup.

Later in the half, Kent State blew open the game a second time and embarked on an 11-4 run to close the half and head into the brief intermission with a controlling 11-point lead.

Once the Flashes established a commanding lead, they never looked.

Kent State kept the first half’s momentum rolling in the second, maintained their double-digit lead and continued building their advantage.

Late in the second half, Kent State established a 20-point lead — its second largest lead of the game — after back-to-back threes by Jackson and Brewer, respectively.

“The start of the second half I thought was important because we didn’t give up those consecutive baskets early on because against Bowling Green we did do that, and that allowed the back in the game,” Senderoff said.

Jackson’s 12 second-half points combined with Brewer’s nine second-half points, helped the Flashes run away with a 10-point victory.

The score might not do the end result justice, as Kent State dominated the Bobcats in nearly every facet of the game, but the Flashes got the job dob.

With the crucial conference win, Kent State boosts its MAC record to 3-1, while Ohio remains winless in the basement of the league, still seeking its first win at 0-4.

“I think every game’s a new game, and the momentum can flip really quickly if you lose on Wednesday, so we just got to keep moving forward and try to build off the 35 minutes we played exceptionally well,” Senderoff said.

Kent State returns to action Wednesday when Toledo visits the M.A.C. Center for a 7 p.m. cross-division contest.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].