Men’s basketball loses a rollercoaster battle to UAB

Rachel Jones

The Kent State men’s basketball team fell to the University of Alabama at Birmingham 75-59 yesterday in true rollercoaster fashion.

The Blazers (7-2) set the tone early, scoring within 31 seconds, but junior center Justin Manns responded with a dunk 20 seconds later.

That was the only time the teams were tied.

With the 6:30 left in the first half, the teams reached one of their biggest gaps in points (29-15).

“In the first half, we played on our heels,” Kent State coach Geno Ford said. “They really took the fight to us and were able to get all of the hustle plays.”

But senior guard Rod Sherman jumpstarted the Flashes’ energy with a 3-pointer at 5:15 and another less than 30 seconds later.

The momentum continued with baskets by junior forwards DeAndre Nealy at 4:11 and Justin Greene at 3:15.

Down 38-25, Greene started the second half with two baskets in less than a minute.

But it was Nealy who gave the Flashes (7-2) their short-lived comeback.

After sinking one free throw at 14:15 in the second half, Nealy missed his second one. While Greene rebounded it within seconds and missed, Nealy earned the points after yet another rebound.

With 17:09 left in second half, Greene and UAB’s sophomore forward Ovie Soko earned a double technical foul.

These offset into two free throws for the Flashes, which junior guard Michael Porrini sank.

Porrini tried to contribute a little more with a 3-point shot at 13:18. When he missed, Nealy rebounded and passed it back to Porrini for the 3-point connection.

A forceful five minutes with points from Sherman and junior guard Carlton Guyton brought the Flashes to 51-56 with 5:40 left in the game.

Guyton posted his second 3-pointer of the game, and Sherman added to his team-high total points (15) against the Blazers.

“I thought we showed a little character, a little toughness,” Ford said. “For a long stretch of the second half, we got the game tightened up.”

When the Blazers began a similar point pile on Kent State, the Flashes could not come back from the slump.

UAB scored 19 points — six from free throws — in the final five minutes of the game.

“It was their fourth game in a week, and they physically manhandled us,” Ford said. “They were really well prepared. They really guarded us well.”

Freshman forward Mark Henniger made a basket and a free throw with 31 seconds left. At that point, it only eased the pain of an unavoidable loss.

While the Flashes struggled with the double-team on offense and catching rebounds, one of the biggest obstacles for the Flashes was UAB’s Cameron Moore.

The junior forward scored 28 points against the Flashes, 21 of them in the first half.

Ford said he remembered Moore was a strong player last season, but when his 17th point outscored Kent State’s team total, the coach saw a new form of toughness.

“When we got here, an hour and a half before the game, (Moore) was dripping sweat in the middle of a workout,” Ford said. “It’s their fourth game in a week, so he could’ve been in the locker room laying down, whining or whatever. Instead, he was just getting ready to kick our ass, which he did.”

Besides Moore, the Flashes knew they had a tough competitor in UAB, but they wanted to play the Blazers to see where they stood compared to one of the toughest teams on their schedule.

“We knew they would expose our weaknesses,” Ford said. “We have a young team, but tonight we were shown to be young and not very tough. Young we can handle. Not very tough’s a problem.”

The Flashes hope to solve that problem this week before they take on Florida. The 7 p.m. road game will be available on ESPN2.

Contact sports reporter Rachel Jones at [email protected].