Men’s basketball’s lead, spirits crushed by Wednesday loss’s major second-half hiccups

Richie Mulhall

Disheartened. Defeated. 

These alliterative words best describe the Kent State men’s basketball team’s morale after a narrow 50-49 loss to the Northern Illinois Huskies on Wednesday at the M.A.C. Center.

The Flashes (11-8, 2-5 Mid-American Conference), who started their season 9-2, found themselves stuck with an 11-8 record and in a four-game skid.

Kent State Coach Rob Senderoff said Wednesday night’s loss felt like déjà vu in the post-game press conference.

The team did not play the way it needed to play, and Senderoff is still trying to figure out what to do to turn this struggling team around.

“Tough, tough, tough, tough,” Senderoff repeated again and again to describe his team’s fourth straight loss this season. “We gotta play better.”

The Flashes were down 48-47 down the stretch, and junior guard Devareaux Manley charged the basket, was fouled and went to the foul line to shoot two.

Manley sank both of his clutch foul shots to push the Flashes into a one-point lead with 30.5 seconds remaining.

The Kent State faithful went crazy when Manley’s second shot rattled around the rim for a split second until finally dropping through the net.

Kent State then needed a stop to hold onto the lead and go home with the W they have been pursuing for weeks.

Northern Illinois (8-11, 2-5 MAC) answered Manley’s free throws right back, though, with a pair of free-throw shots of their own. Sophomore guard Travon Baker of Northern Illinois drove straight through line unguarded and untouched and was fouled at the rim. He sank his free throws, allowing the Huskies to reclaim the lead with 5 seconds remaining.

The game came down to one crucial play — one crucial stop — and unfortunately for the Flashes, it was the stop that never was which sealed their fate. 

“We needed one stop late after still playing so poorly the whole game and didn’t get it,” Senderoff said. 

With mere seconds left in regulation, senior forward Mark Henniger had no choice but to chuck up a Hail Mary toward the hoop. 

No good — another game over.

“We gotta play better,” Senderoff repeated. 

The Flashes kicked off the game on the right foot with a three-pointer courtesy of senior forward Darren Goodson. The rest of the team kept the ball rolling with six total steals later in the half, three by redshirt junior guard Derek Jackson, one by sophomore guard Kellon Thomas and one by sophomore forward Chris Ortiz.

Ortiz seemed to be Kent State’s man to beat in the first half, with six points on a perfect 3-3 shooting effort from the field.

Kent State’s offensive woes from beyond the arc persisted in the first stanza of the game, but the team managed to maintain its cool and keep the Huskies at bay from the defensive side of the ball. The Flashes were able to force 13 turnovers in the first half alone. 

In regard to shooting, Northern Illinois outshot Kent State 42.1 percent to 36 percent from the field in the first half; however, the Flashes went into the break leading 28-21. 

Goodson closed the first half in the same way he opened it: Dropping a perfect shot from downtown.

In the second half, the Huskies came out on the court ready to take back a lead they had not had since the start of the first half.  

Northern Illinois cut its seven-point deficit to two with a successfully converted and-one and dunk. Kent State fans held their breaths for a few moments, but the Flashes battled back and temporarily quelled the shocking unrest for the time being. The team shot 5 of 7 from the field in the early going of the second half and jumped out to a commanding 38-26 lead. 

Northern Illinois called a time out to try to stop the bleeding. That’s when things went south for the Flashes.

After its hot start in the second, Kent State quickly went as cold as the sub-zero temperatures northeast Ohio has borne lately. The brief second half that first featured a lot of clutch shots and fluent passing became a train wreck in a hurry.

The Huskies took advantage of the second-half slump. With 12 minutes to go and the Flashes up 43-30, Kent State redshirt sophomore guard K.K. Simmons turned the ball over, which was widely considered the turning point in the game.

“Twelve minutes to go, we’re up 13, that’s when we turned it over, and I really don’t know what happens from that point on,” Senderoff said.

After watching turnover after turnover and missed shot after missed shot from the sidelines, Senderoff’s body language said it all.

He kept shaking his head and clasping his head in his hands but continued to clap fervently, trying to keep his players’ spark that had been extinguished by the Huskies’ defensive regime.

“We just stopped playing, and I don’t have the answer for it,” Senderoff said.

The Flashes turned the ball over 12 times in the second half and lost the touch they had behind their shots in the first half.

Shots just weren’t falling.

Before Senderoff even knew what hit his team, a 5-7 shooting performance suddenly turned into a disastrous 7-20 shooting effort by the end of the evening.

Senderoff said all of his players struggled in the second half, including Kris Brewer, who had a very off night with only two points on an 0-7 shooting performance from the field.  Brewer’s only two points of the ball game came from his sole trip to the foul line.

“He was out of it all night and I don’t know why,” Senderoff said of Brewer. “He had 25 [points] against [the Huskies] last time and tonight he had two. Tonight, he really struggled, and I’m not trying throwing him under the bus because it’s not just him; it’s the total team.”

With a resounding cry for improvement resonating within the men’s basketball team’s locker room, the Flashes will hope to ease some of their frustrations this weekend, as they will be back in action Saturday to host the Akron Zips. The rivalry contest is set to begin at 6 p.m.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].