Flashes outlast Lehigh in 80-75 win

Cody Erbacher

The Kent State men’s basketball team closed out a back-and-forth thriller Friday night with the help of a late-game charge call on the opposing Lehigh Mountain Hawks to win 80-75 at the M.A.C. Center.

With one minute remaining, Kent State (6-1) had a 72-70 lead over Lehigh (2-3).

With the ball in the post, junior forward Justin Greene failed to make two-straight shots. Then, sophomore guard Randal Holt slashed to the basket, jumped up in the air and glided past defenders to put up the shot that gave Kent State a two-possession lead.

“I thought the play of the game was Randal Holt’s offensive rebound put back, where he seemed to hang in the air for a while,” Kent State coach Geno Ford said. “It was an incredibly difficult finish and he made it and it was a big shot that we needed.”

Sophomore guard C.J. McCollum, who finished with a career-high 42 points, was fouled on the Mountain Hawks next possession and hit two free throws. McCollum went 9-for-11 from the foul line in the game.

“He played great,” Ford said. “He got in a rhythm and he made a bunch of shots, and the thing you’ve got to do is find a way to win.”

“McCallum had a good one, he was certainly very, very good tonight.”

Then, after senior guard Rod Sherman missed a 3-point attempt, McCollum drove the ball with just under 30 seconds remaining.

But the play never developed as McCollum was called for a charge as he leaned into Sherman with his elbow.

The call prevented McCollum, who went 15 for 25 from the field, from throwing up a shot. The Flashes maintained the lead for the remainder of the game with two foul shots from Holt and Greene to finish with an 80-75 victory over Lehigh.

Although the star guard converted 15 shot attempts, no other player on the Mountain Hawks posted more than four successful shots in the game. McCollum more than doubled Lehigh’s field goals on the night.

Although the final score gave Kent State its best start to a season since the 2002-03 Flashes took the court, Lehigh remained strong with a 41-38 lead going into halftime.

But the score never really seemed to affect either team throughout the contest, as each offense was converting highly contested shots and taking back a lead that was once theirs. The lead changed 22 times, leaving a crowd of 3,421 constantly cheering for the home team. But at times that wasn’t apparent as McCollum, who graduated from Glen Oak High School in Canton, brought his own fan club to line the M.A.C. Center’s seats.

With 5:53 seconds left in the game, McCollum cut into a 5-point Kent State lead by sinking a 3-pointer and igniting his supporting fans, which had watched Kent State maintain a lead for the previous seven minutes.

McCollum returned to defense and watched as junior forward Justin Greene turned the ball over to provide an easy breakaway layup for Gabe Knutson, who tied the game 65-65 with 5:16 remaining.

But Greene, who went 8 for 9 from the free throw line in the last 4:59, sunk two straight foul shots to give the Flashes a lead that they would not surrender for the remaining of the game.

Greene finished with his third double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while shooting 3 for 10 from the field and 12 for 14 from the free throw line.

Greene is averaging 19.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this season.

Sherman finished with 18 points and Holt recorded 11 points. They were the only other Kent State members joining Greene in double-digit scoring.

Kent State finishes a two-game home stretch against Louisiana at Monroe on Tuesday, before traveling to face UAB Dec. 5, then No. 14 Florida Dec. 9.

Contact Cody Erbacher at [email protected].