Even perfect shots couldn’t fall for Kent State during early shooting woes

Matt Peters

OK, who’s the clown who moved the basketball hoop in the Southwest end zone a little to the left Saturday?

That seems to be the only logical explanation for Kent State’s first-half shooting woes against Southern Illinois. The end result was a 65-54 loss to Southern Illinois, but their problems started well before the final buzzer.

Well, maybe saying problems is even a little harsh. The Flashes often got good looks and sometimes good shots. However, it just read from the stat sheet as — missed jumper, missed 3-pointer, missed layup and so on.

“I look at the first half, and we got great shots,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “Those are shots you want. Ten-, 12-foot jump shots, balls on top of the rim, post moves three feet from the rim — if I could draw it up, that’s what I’d want.”

Some of the shots were airballs. Others rattled around the rim only to be spit back out into play. Kent State seemed like it was just slightly off all first half and never found an offensive rhythm.

Although it would be possible for a young team to buckle under the pressure of national TV and against a team who had won 22 games, junior Jay Youngblood wasn’t about to attribute the Flashes shooting troubles to jitters.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” said Youngblood, who was just 1-of-6 in the first half. “I came in early, about 3 o’clock, shooting jump shots. I felt good. They just weren’t falling.”

And when they weren’t falling, the Flashes got second chances to see their shots not fall again.

On numerous occasions, Kent State would miss a shot but recover the rebound only to miss again. The Flashes had more second chances than the NHL season has had. Twelve offensive rebounds led to just six second-chance points.

Where the Flashes layups and mid-range jumpers weren’t falling, their 3-pointers dying. In years past, the Flashes have had players like Eric Haut and Trevor Huffman light up opponents from beyond the arc. As of late, their 3-point shooting has been abysmal.

Kent State is hitting just 28.9 percent of its 3-pointers in the month of February. Once again, shots were open, but it was as if the basket was not where the Flashes were used to shooting.

“I think we were taking good (3s),” Christian said. “We took 18, but they were giving them to us.”

The performance makes you wonder — what if? What if Kent State had made just two of their 10 first half 3-pointers? What if shot after shot found its way through the netting rather than rattling around on the rim? What if Kent State found some way to knock down Southern Illinois 12-point halftime lead by just a couple of points? What if the Flashes hadn’t started shooting poorly in each of their last two home games?

Games are normally won late, but there’s a reason they play the first half.