Flashes to host Bucknell in rematch of double-digit 2012 loss


Sophomore guard K.K. Simmons drives the ball toward the basket during the Kent State’s game against Kennesaw State Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. The Flashes won the game 68-51. Photo by Brian Smith.

Nick Shook

Kent State traveled to central Pennsylvania on Dec. 4, 2012 to face Bucknell University at Sojka Pavilion. They came away with a 16-point loss to the Bison.

Six-foot-11 center Mike Muscala took advantage of a height difference, scoring 27 points in a dominating performance to lead Bucknell to victory.

This season, the matchup is much different.

Muscala has graduated, and the Bison are off to a slow start by their standards, winning just three of their first seven games. But Flashes Coach Rob Senderoff will be the first to discourage any underestimation of Bucknell (3-4) heading into Wednesday’s contest at the M.A.C. Center.

“They’re very good,” Senderoff said. “Don’t let their record fool you. They lost at St. John’s by 4 and led for about 30 minutes. They played Stanford to a 4-point game. They beat Penn State on the road, scored 90 points and shot 70 percent in the second half. It’s going to be a tough game.”

Instead of feeding the ball into the post for much of their offensive output, the Bison lean on two guards who are efficient scorers. Six-foot-5 guard Cameron Ayers leads Bucknell with 15 points per game and has made an astounding 50 percent of 3-point attempts. Six-foot-3 guard Steven Kaspar is doing a little bit of everything, averaging 9.9 points per game to go along with 5.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game.

“Cameron Ayers is a great player, and they have a good program,” Senderoff said, “so even with some guys graduating from last year, they’ve got guys just like us that fill those spots and are ready to play.”

Meanwhile, Kent State (8-1) has shown it has the ability to win games in a variety of ways. The Flashes had five players score in double-figures in a 102-97 win against Niagara on Nov. 23, and then turned up the defensive intensity eight days later, holding Kennesaw State to 31 percent from the field and grabbing 31 defensive rebounds in a 68-51 victory against the Owls on Sunday.

“I’m glad that we are where we are,” Senderoff said. “I still think there’s room for improvement. Defensively, we played really well last game, but we had the most turnovers we’ve had all season, which is not characteristic of us. This is a team that doesn’t turn teams over in Bucknell, so we’re going to have to do a great job of taking care of the basketball.

“We’re going to have to shoot a good percentage from three because the way they defend, they really make it hard to score inside, so we’re going to have to penetrate and kick and try to make some shots.”

Junior guard Derek Jackson, a new arrival to Kent State from Central Michigan, leads the team with 12 points per game. But despite his team-high average, Jackson is best known for his defense and will be counted on against Ayers tonight.

“Derek always guards the other team’s best player, but like always, it’s a total team effort defensively,” Senderoff said. “They have a number of guys who can shoot the ball. I think they’re ninth in the country in 3-point percentage, so we’re going to have to do a good job on all of them.”

Unlike last season, 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Khaliq Spicer will be depended upon coming off the bench to provide added height to the Flashes’ defense. Spicer, who saw the floor sparingly in 2012-13, is now a consistent substitution in Kent State’s rotation and will be matched up against Brian Fitzpatrick, a 6-foot-8 forward who averages 11.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Senderoff is pleased with the improvement of Spicer, who will be one of the Flashes’ main defenders against Fitzpatrick and the Bison.

“As he continues to mature, get better, it will help our team for sure,” Senderoff said. “He’s a different player, much more confident, stronger. He knows every game; he’s going to play. Last year, his minutes were not consistent, so it was harder for him.

Now he knows that he’s going to play every game and he’s played better.”

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].