Men’s basketball hoping for better outing against Ohio

Photo by Steven Echard.

Photo by Steven Echard.

Tim Dorst

The Kent State men’s basketball team is looking to end a two-game slide this weekend, but the players will have their hands full when one of the best teams in the Mid-American Conference comes to town.

The Flashes (11-8, 2-3 MAC) will host the Ohio Bobcats (14-5, 5-0 MAC) Saturday at the M.A.C. Center with tip off scheduled for 6 p.m.

After back-to-back losses to Akron and Bowling Green, the Flashes are in need of a convincing victory to avoid falling too far behind in the conference standings. A win over the Bobcats would be a step in the right direction, but head coach Rob Senderoff said it will be one of Kent State’s toughest challenges of the season thus far.

“They’re one of the best passing teams and one of the best offensive teams in the country,” Senderoff said. “They’re very good in transition, so we’re going to have to do a really good job making them have to play in the half-court and trying to make them shoot as many contested shots as we can.”

The Bobcats are tied with the Zips for first place in the MAC East Division and rank second in the conference with nearly 75 points per game. Kent State is third in that category, scoring just less than 70 points per game this season.

Senior forward Brian Frank said despite the loss to the Falcons Wednesday, the players understand that there are many more games left, and they remain confident that they will recover from their underwhelming performance at Bowling Green.

“It’s going to be a tough game against Ohio,” Frank said. “We haven’t played well at home as of late, so we’re really going to try to turn that around. I think if we got a win against Ohio, that would be a great start.”

The Flashes are still trying to discover a rhythm on their home court after starting the season 6-5 at the M.A.C. Center. With a win Saturday, Kent State can get its first home victory against a MAC team.

Frank said one of the Bobcats’ biggest strengths is at their guard position.

Ohio advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament last season behind point guard D.J. Cooper, the MAC leader in assists per game with 8.3 this season to go along with averaging 14 points per game.

As a way to counter Cooper, Senderoff said, Kent State needs to focus on keeping him from getting the ball out in transition.

“We just got to kind of shrink that court because he’s very good in the open floor,” Senderoff said. “We have to make him have to try to beat us in the half court.”

While seniors Randal Holt and Chris Evans account for a majority of the Flashes’ points, a consistent third scorer on the team has yet to be established. But Senderoff said there is less of a focus on the individual and more of a focus on the team aspect.

“We’ve sort of had different guys step up and score in different games,” Senderoff said. “We just have to play a little bit better as a group. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one guy or another. There will be days when it’s Kris [Brewer], there will be days when it’s Darren [Goodson] who’s able to step up and help out on the offensive end.”

Saturday’s game will be the first time Bobcats head coach Jim Christian coaches against his former team. Christian coached the Flashes from 2002 to 2008 and finished his stint with an overall record of 138-58, leading them to two MAC Championships and two appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

“Jim was a great coach here for six years,” Senderoff said. “He and I are very close friends. Right now, my focus is trying to have Kent play as well as we can play, and his is on OU. I’m sure at some point we’ll talk after the game, but we’re both focusing on our teams and getting the win.”

Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen sees a friendly rivalry taking place Saturday night. Nielsen said he interacted with Christian during the coaching search in 2011 when Senderoff was hired, and added that it will be fun for the fans and the staff to see Christian back on campus and back coaching in the MAC.

“He’s been very nice and very helpful along the way,” Nielsen said. “We’re probably going to be like that 333 or however many days out of the year, and maybe the other days we’re going to try to beat each other on the court. The fans will recognize him and understand it, but once they throw that ball up in the air, it’s on after that.”

Christian took over the head-coaching job for the Bobcats before this season and has helped Ohio continue the success it built last year under former coach John Groce. The two teams are playing on different levels at this juncture, with the Bobcats going for their seventh straight win while the Flashes are facing a possible three-game losing streak.

Frank said the team will have to play hard for all 40 minutes against Ohio as well as make the necessarily adjustments on things the Flashes didn’t do well against Bowling Green.

“We need to execute the game plan that our coaches give us,” Frank said. “Against BG, we really didn’t do the things we knew we needed to do in the first half, and that led to our second half struggles. Against Ohio, we really need to come out hot and play as hard as we can.”

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].