Flashes hold off Fairmont State for third-straight win

Nick Shook

Kent State’s Chris Evans scored a career-high 27 points Sunday night.

The Flashes needed every single one of them.

Kent State (8-5) fought off a furious late run by visiting Fairmont State (5-3) to finish off its third consecutive victory, 77-75 over the Falcons in front of 2,164 at the M.A.C. Center.

Evans made 9 of 16 field goal attempts, including 6 of 10 from deep to lead the Flashes in scoring. The senior forward heated up in the first half, making five consecutive 3-pointers to put Kent State ahead by 11.

“It was a good shooting night,” Evans said. “I got started kind of early so after I saw the first one go in, I think probably the first two, I felt like it was going to be a good night for me, but I honestly didn’t think it would be six 3-pointers.”

Evans was in the right place at the right time for most of the night for Kent State, especially in the final minutes of the game.

With the Falcons in the midst of an 18-6 run over a span of 5:30, Kent State desperately needed a bucket. Junior forward Mark Henniger took a short jump shot that bounced around and out of the rim, continuing the Flashes’ scoring drought until Evans swooped in and slammed the ball through the hoop to give the Flashes a 76-70 lead with 2:32 left to play.

Despite the dunk, Kent State struggled with the Falcons’ increased defensive pressure to the very end and barely managed to keep Fairmont State from overcoming a deficit that was once as large as 17 points with 10:08 remaining in the game.

“They made a run which we knew they were going to do, and basketball is a game of runs so all we had to do was stay calm, stay poised and stay tough on defense and answer their run,” said senior Randal Holt, who finished with 10 points and three rebounds. “Chris [Evans] made some big plays for us down the stretch, some big free throws.”

Evans was sent to the foul line with 25 seconds left and the Flashes clinging to a one-point lead. The senior captain made one of two free throws, setting up a final possession to determine the outcome of the game.

After dribbling out much of the remaining time, Fairmont State’s Isaac Thornton was left open on the left wing behind the 3-point line. Thornton took the open look and attempted to win the game with a last-second 3-pointer, but his shot bounced off the rim and into the hands of Kent State’s Bryson Pope as time expired.

“We didn’t want to give up any threes,” Holt said. “If he would have gotten in the lane, we wanted to force him to finish in traffic, over guys. We didn’t want to help and give guys open threes to give them a lead if they would have made the shot. We did exactly what we talked about in the huddle, we executed our defense and Bryson Pope made a great play for us and came up with the rebound.”

Kent State held a double-digit lead for much of the second half and appeared to have the game well under control until Fairmont State implemented a full-court press defense. The Flashes, who have often struggled against the press this season, turned the ball over 11 times in the second half as the Falcons mounted their comeback attempt.

“We had a 17-point lead with 10 minutes to go in the game and my concern for our team is that we had a nine-point lead against Arkansas State and we couldn’t stretch it and we had a 17-point lead in this game and we couldn’t stretch it,” Flashes head coach Rob Senderoff said. “Eventually, it’s going to come back to bite us. That to me is a no-brainer — it’s just a matter of when.

“We have to get better at staying focused, closing out games, keeping up our defensive intensity, taking care of the basketball—you can go on and on.”

When asked if the Flashes’ inability to close out games is due to their inexperience and youth, Senderoff admitted it is a factor.

“We have a lot of young guys,” Senderoff said. “Even our older guys, outside of Randal [Holt], like Chris Evans is young basketball-wise in terms of understanding how to finish games and how to close games out. And that’s not a knock on him, I’m just saying we have a lot of guys who haven’t been through this.

“I think [Kent State’s youth] has something to do with it. I don’t want to use that as crutch or an excuse, because at the end of the day, no body cares. You only care if you win or if you lose.”

Kent State almost added another tally in the loss column, but came away with a narrow victory over a Division II school.

“I knew that these guys were good,” Senderoff said. “I knew that I’d make a mistake scheduling them. And we almost paid for it. I’m glad that we didn’t.”

Holt emphasized the importance of the victory.

“In our book, a win is a win, regardless of if you win by one or if you win by 30,” Holt said. “We came out tonight, we fought it out, we were in a dog fight. We played with poise, we made big plays down the stretch and came out with a win.”

Kent State will travel to Cleveland to take on the Cleveland State Vikings at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Wolstein Center.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].