KSU men’s basketball clinches tournament bye with victory over Ohio

Nick Shook

The Flashes (20-9, 10-5 MAC) started the game with intense defensive play and forced Ohio (23-7, 10-5 MAC) to commit 21 turnovers on the way to a 68-61 victory over the Bobcats and a first-round bye in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. Kent State took advantage of Ohio’s early mistakes and scored 17 points off of turnovers in the first half to take a 41-27 lead into halftime.

“[Kent State] came out like gangbusters and they hit us in the mouth,” Ohio coach John Groce said. “That toughness they showed in the first 18 minutes really had a lot to do with them winning the game.”

“That’s just us getting back to Kent State basketball,” Flashes’ junior guard Randal Holt said. “We pride our team on defense and toughness and making the hustle plays. We tried to create turnovers, which we did in the first half and they led to easy baskets.”

“I think our kids were tired of losing,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “We came out with great energy and purpose. We were flying all over the place and coming up with every loose ball and all the things we needed to do.”

Kent State appeared to run out of energy, though, in the second half, and failed to score a single point for more than seven minutes late in the second half. Junior forward Chris Evans made two free throws with 4:43 remaining in the game, but his most important play came two minutes later.

Following a 3-pointer by Ohio’s D.J. Cooper, which cut the Flashes’ lead to 57-51, Kent State’s senior guard Michael Porrini lobbed a pass toward the hoop with the shot clock under 10 seconds. Evans leaped through the air, received the pass and slammed it through the rim to extend the Flashes’ lead to eight and bring the M.A.C. Center crowd to its feet.

“It was a huge, huge play,” Senderoff said. “That play was really important.”

“It doesn’t shock me one bit that [Ohio made a run] and made it a close game,” Senderoff said. “Obviously, we made some mental errors or whatever it may be. We sometimes make it harder than it needs to be. But when we needed to come up with big plays, we did.”

The Flashes made free throws in the final two minutes of the game as Ohio was forced to foul, and Kent State walked off the floor with its 20th victory of the season.

After losing at Ohio by 22 points earlier in the season, Kent State played with a sense of redemption Wednesday night.

“Our kids were determined not to lose,” Senderoff said. “We lost three games, didn’t play great. I think a lot of people questioned our kids’ heart, and I think they were out to prove that ‘you know what, we may not win the regular season championship…but we’re not going to lay down.’”

Flashes’ senior guard Carlton Guyton drew a technical foul after yelling in the face of an opponent following a dunk by Flashes’ senior center Justin Manns. It wouldn’t be the last technical foul of the night.

Ohio became frustrated with its inability to succeed offensively in the first half, and following another turnover, Groce became enraged on the sidelines and let the officials know it, which drew a technical foul.

Kent State completed the trio of technical fouls when Porrini was whistled for one while dribbling the ball just past the half-court line.

“We lost by 30 [versus Ohio earlier in the season],” said senior forward Justin Greene. “It happens. You know how it is, there’s going to be trash-talking. There was trash-talking last time when they beat us. It is what it is.”

“Everybody watched them Sunday night. They beat Akron by 30,” Senderoff said. “Our kids took the challenge and said ‘hey, we’re not going to lose at home to these guys.’ Our kids were determined to not let that happen on their home floor.”

Senderoff started a different five players Wednesday night, which included bench players Evans, sohpomore Eric Gaines and senior Patrick Jackson. The change was beneficial to the Flashes, who jumped out to a 10-5 lead in the first 3:10 of the game. Usual starters Greene, Porrini and Holt were inserted into the game two minutes later, and the Flashes began their first-half run.

“When you lose three games in a row, you can’t just sit there and say it’s OK,” Senderoff. “I had to try to do something to get them to play the way they’re supposed to play. And to be honest, at no point would I have expected them to not respond the right way. I thought they would. I told them all individually when I met with them that I expected them to respond the right way, and they all did.”

Kent State will host rival Akron in the final game of the regular season at 7 p.m. Friday in front of a national television audience on ESPN2.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].