Men’s Basketball advances to MAC Semifinals with win over Buffalo

Assistant Coach DeAndre Haynes celebrates with the mens basketball team after their 70-68 victory over Buffalo in the MAC Tournament on Thursday, March 14 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The win sets up a rematch with rival Akron in the semifinals Friday. Photo by Shane Flanigan.

Shane Flanigan

Assistant Coach DeAndre Haynes celebrates with the men’s basketball team after their 70-68 victory over Buffalo in the MAC Tournament on Thursday, March 14 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The win sets up a rematch with rival Akron in the semifinals Friday. Photo by Shane Flanigan.

Tim Dorst

CLEVELAND — Kent State found itself matched up with Buffalo for the third time this season, meeting them in quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament. The finish of Thursday’s game was somewhat reminiscent of the last game between the Flashes and the Bulls, which Kent State won by two, and the result of this game was very much like the last.

The Flashes came away with a 70-68 victory over the Bulls Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, advancing to the semifinals of the MAC Tournament. The team will meet Akron in the semifinal matchup at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Kent State (20-12, 9-7 MAC) won its sixth straight game, including its third over the Bulls this season, after overcoming a deficit that grew to eight early in the second half. Buffalo fought through an early shooting slump to pull ahead and take a 32-30 lead over the Flashes at halftime.

Flashes head coach Rob Senderoff said his team showed a level of resolve that has defined them in the last couple months.

“The first half showed a lot of jitters, and I understand the anxiousness our players had,” Senderoff said. “It reminded me of how we played in early January when we weren’t playing at a high level. Credit to our guys, their resolve carried us throughout the second half.”

Senior forward Chris Evans earned Player of the Game honors with 25 points and 15 rebounds, recording his fifth double-double in the last eight games. Evans seemingly took over the game in the second half when the Flashes were on the verge of losing control.

With the Bulls leading 47-42, Evans hit a step-back jumper to cut the deficit to three, which was closely followed by a 3-pointer from the top of the key by senior guard Randal Holt to tie the game. Later in the half with the Flashes leading by one, Evans drove right and finished with a contact layup and drew the foul, ultimately extending his team’s lead to four.

Evans said Senderoff told him at halftime to not settle for jump shots as he did in the first half, and Evans took his coach’s advice to heart.

“He told me how I settled for jumpers early on in the shot clock,” Evans said. “So in the second half, I definitely had the mindset to attack the rim. I was able to get into the lane and finish and create plays for others as well.”

With a little more than two minutes remaining in the game, Evans knocked down another jumper to beat the shot clock and followed that up with a drive and a swooping underhand layup to put the Flashes up 66-61. The Bulls answered with a 3-pointer at the other end to make it a two-point game once more.

Evans drove to the rim again with less than a minute remaining, this time passing the ball out to sophomore guard Devareaux Manley. Manley drew the foul and hit two free throws to extend the lead to four, but Buffalo guard Tony Watson brought his team within two again with a layup.

The Bulls fouled Evans with 5.6 seconds left trying to extend the game, but the senior calmly made both free throws to officially put the game out of reach.

Senderoff said, along with the scoring he provided, Evans kicking the ball to Manley when the defense collapsed on him was one of the best things he did all game.

“Instead of trying to force up a shot, which he might have done two months ago, he kicked it to [Manley], and [Manley] was able to make that play. [Evans] didn’t feel the need to have to do it himself — he and Randal [Holt] both. They’ve done a great job this year of trusting these guys more as the year has gone on.”

Holt finished the game with 17 points, and junior forward Darren Goodson added 12 points.

As the Flashes shift their focus back to Akron, a team they defeated 68-64 just a week ago, Evans said the team is not satisfied with its win over the Zips last Friday.

“We’re definitely happy that we won that game, but that’s not how we want our season to end,” Evans said. “We definitely want to beat them again when it really counts and just keep pushing forward.”

The Zips had a day to prepare for their last game against the Flashes after Akron guard Alex Abreu was suspended from the team following his arrest for the possession and trafficking of marijuana. Now that Akron has had a week to prepare for their next game, Senderoff said he has a good feeling the Zips will come out playing much harder than last time.

“They had a week to prepare, so I’m sure they’ll make some adjustments,” Senderoff said. “For us, we just have to play as hard as we can for as long as we can, and we’ll see where we are at the end of the day.”

For Holt, the biggest thing the Flashes can do to prepare is focus on what they need to do right and not worry about what the Zips have in store for them.

“We worry about Kent State, we worry about us,” Holt said. “We aren’t really worried about any other team or what they’ve got going. We just want to come ready to play tomorrow and advance in the tournament. It would feel great to get that win tomorrow.”

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].