Holt’s last-second shot lifts Flashes over Bethune-Cookman

Nick Shook

Trailing by one with 15.3 seconds left in regulation, Kent State guard Randal Holt wanted the ball in his hands.

“My whole career I’ve been taking big shots,” Holt said. “I’ve never been afraid to take big shots. In those type of moments I’m always telling myself ‘I’m going to make this shot.’”

Holt stayed true to form Tuesday night. The senior captain drove to his right across the top of the lane, stepped back and sank a game-winning jump shot with 1.3 seconds remaining to lift the Flashes (3-2) to a 69-68 win over Bethune-Cookman (1-3) in the third game of the Joe Cipriano Nebraska Classic in front of 1,958 at the Memorial Athletic Convocation Center in Kent, Ohio.

“Coach asked me today if we ever get into a late game situation, he told me he was coming to me,” said Holt, who finished with 13 points and two assists. “I just did what I know I can do, stepped in there with confidence, drove right hard, a little step back, and knocked it down.”

Bethune-Cookman’s Ricky Johnson Jr. took the ensuing inbounds pass and heaved a half-court shot at the buzzer, but the ball bounced off the rim and to the floor, and Holt’s teammates mobbed him in the backcourt.

“I guess that’s the Kent State way to win,” Senderoff said. “There’s a ton of times that sometimes you just shake your head and wonder how you won. Tonight was certainly one of those nights.”

Senderoff’s decision to trust Holt resulted in a much-needed win after the Flashes fell to Valparaiso in heartbreaking fashion in overtime Sunday.

“At the end, Randal did what Randal does, which is take and make big shots,” Senderoff said. “That’s what he’s done his whole career here. There’s nobody that you’d rather have shoot that than him.”

Kent State’s loss to Valpo served as a lesson to Senderoff, which he immediately applied Tuesday evening. A screen was called to get Holt open for a pass versus the Crusaders, but the play started with a different Flash in possession of the ball.

Holt was eventually denied an opportunity to score, and after reviewing film, Senderoff made sure he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

“The thing that I second-guessed from that game was I should have just given him the ball and inbounded it to him and basically let him do what he did here,” Senderoff said. “If we’re in that type of situation…the ball is going to go into Randal’s hands and he’ll make the decision.”

Holt’s decision turned out to be the right one for the Flashes, who finished up a five-game home stand with a 3-2 record. After having a potential win stolen from their grasp Sunday afternoon, Kent State got the break it needed with Holt’s game-winner.

“It would have been tough for our team had we lost again,” Senderoff said. “…at the end, in the huddles, our guys just said ‘hey, we’re gonna win, we’re gonna win, we’re gonna win.’”

Trailing by one with 36 seconds left, Kent State needed a defensive stop. Junior forward Mark Henniger came out of the post to guard Wildcats guard Kevin Dukes and shuffled along the sideline in front of Dukes, forcing the guard to step out of bounds and turn the ball over with 15.3 seconds remaining.

“Mark did a great job keeping the guy in front of him and just sort of veering him out and showing his hands,” Senderoff said. “The kid stepped out of bounds, which gave us a chance to win the game.”

Holt was thankful for the effort and play of his teammate.

“If it wasn’t for [Henniger] with that good hedge, forcing the guy out of bounds, there wouldn’t have been a shot or possession,” Holt said. “That was big. [Henniger] does a lot for us that he doesn’t get a lot of credit for.”

Bethune-Cookman’s long-range shooting success was difficult for Kent State to overcome for much of the game. The Wildcats made 13 of their 25 total field goals from behind the 3-point arc, and Dukes made six of 11 3-point attempts and finished with 18 points to lead the Wildcats.

“We can’t let a guy like [Dukes] shoot 11 threes,” Senderoff said. “That’s something that we’ll address Thursday.”

Freshman Kellon Thomas replaced sophomore Kris Brewer at guard, and freshman Chris Ortiz replaced junior Darren Goodson at forward in Kent State’s starting lineup Tuesday night. The change resulted in a career-high 13-point, eight-rebound night for Ortiz, the most points and rebounds by a KSU freshman since Rod Sherman scored 14 on March 1, 2007 and Chris Singletary grabbed 11 rebounds on March 9, 2007.

“It felt great,” Ortiz said. “What felt the best was that coach was able to believe in me and let me take those shots. It’s a big confidence boost for me.”

Senderoff was pleased with the effort and energy that the two freshmen brought to the game.

“Both of them played really hard and they had a big impact on our start of the game, which was really good, and the start of the second half,” Senderoff said. “Ortiz made a couple really big plays down the stretch and made his free throws.”

Kent State will hit the road for the first time in the 2012-13 season and travel to Nebraska to play the Cornhuskers in the final game of the Joe Cipriano Nebraska Classic. Tip-off is at 9 p.m.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].