Flashes basketball falls to Toledo in MAC opener

A span of less than six minutes ended multiple winning streaks and left Kent State searching for answers on Wednesday night.

Toledo (5-7, 1-0 Mid-American Conference) snapped the Flashes’ 31-game winning streak against MAC West Division opponents with a 70-58 victory over Kent State (9-6, 0-1 MAC) in front of 2,178 at the M.A.C. Center in Kent, Ohio.

“Certainly not the way we wanted to start the league,” Flashes head coach Rob Senderoff said. “Got to give Toledo credit, they played well. We did not play well at all, in any facet.”

After a nearly even first half, the Rockets jumped out to a double-digit lead within the first 5:16 of the second half.

The Flashes trailed by as many as 14 points in the latter period and were behind by nine when consecutive layups by sophomore guard Kris Brewer suddenly brought Kent State within five points.

But the Flashes couldn’t get a defensive stop when they needed it most.

Following two free throws by KSU’s Bryson Pope, the Flashes were within a possession of tying the game for the first time since the first half and had momentum on their side. Toledo’s Rian Pearson quickly swung that momentum back in favor of the Rockets by smoothly sinking a baseline jump shot to increase the Rockets’ lead to five.

“Toward the end we started making our run and then we just couldn’t get that extra stop or extra loose ball,” Flashes senior Chris Evans said. “It seemed like every time we went on a 4-0 run, they would always just find a way to get that bucket or get that extra boost that would stop our runs from going.”

The two teams traded buckets for almost two minutes before Pearson’s layup plus one with 2:06 remaining effectively ended any hopes of a comeback for Kent State.

“They made a couple plays down the stretch that really put the game out of hand toward the end,” Evans said. “I definitely think we kind of lost sight on the defensive end at times throughout the game.

“In this conference, when you want to win the conference and win the league that just can’t happen on a nightly basis.”

Pearson, who entered the night leading the MAC in scoring with 19.2 points per game, finished with 27 points and nine rebounds.

“He’s the leading MAC scorer and he scored 27 tonight, so I definitely could’ve done a better job on him defensively,” Evans said.

The loss was Kent State’s first against a MAC West opponent since Jan. 2, 2008, when the Jim Christian-led Flashes fell to Toledo 59-56 at UT’s Savage Hall.

It was another strong performance from Evans, who led the Flashes with 20 points and seven rebounds. Despite Toledo’s focus on Evans, he still managed to carry his team. But it was the rest of the Flashes who struggled to help him shoulder the load.

“We just didn’t play very well in any aspect tonight,” Senderoff said. “We didn’t guard real well, didn’t execute what we do offensively at all, as evidenced by how poorly we shot.”

The Flashes made just 18 of 56 shots (32.1 percent) from the floor. Senior guard Randal Holt, one of the Flashes’ go-to scoring options, made 2 of 15 attempts and finished with 10 points.

“I’ll go down with Randal, because he’s a four-year guard who has helped us win a lot of games,” Senderoff said. “[But] he’s not playing very well. He’s got to shoot a better percentage and got to defend a little better. … He’s got to get himself out of this.”

With the loss, Kent State’s four-game winning streak also came to an end. The Flashes will travel to Muncie, Ind., to face Ball State on Saturday. Tip off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].