Looking for answers

Matt Goul

Flashes left busted after poor first half

Kent State players Nate Gerwig and Jason Edwin show their disappointment in the last seconds of the game against Southern Illinois Saturday. With a crowd of more than 6,000, the Flashes lost 65-54.

Credit: Matt Goul

There came a point where any player wearing a Kent State jersey could only shake his head and wonder what else could be done.

That point came quickly Saturday as the Flashes missed their first three shots.

There was more to come.

Open jump shots did not fall. Second-chance opportunities on offensive rebounds were lost. Kent State (16-10) gave itself every opportunity to win but could not convert those opportunities in a 65-54 loss to Southern Illinois (22-6) at the M.A.C. Center.

It started with missed jump shots. One after another, they came. They clanged, and they fell out. The first half passed, and Southern Illinois held a 32-20 lead. The Flashes took 35 shots. They hit only nine.

Kent State coach Jim Christian could coach all he wanted. He just could not coach the ball on how to enter the hoop.

“Those are shots that you want,” he said. “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.”

The 3-point shooting was the worst.

All 10 attempts from behind the arc were missed in the first half. Kent State missed its first 12 attempts until DeAndre Haynes broke a 40-40 tie midway through the second half.

The Flashes opened the second half on an 18-4 run, culminating with Jay Youngblood giving them their first lead. Youngblood did what seemed the only way his team could score three points — scoring two on a foul and one from the free-throw line.

Youngblood took Haynes’ pass before meeting Southern Illinois’ Stetson Hairston in mid-air. Youngblood avoided a block while overpowering Hairston and drawing a foul.

“I had that mindset in that run. I kind of got out of it where I should have stayed in it,” Youngblood said. “That’s my game; that’s my strength, driving to the rim.”

Ten of his 12 points came in the 18-4 run.

His three-point play gave Kent State a 38-36 lead a minute before Haynes hit the first of its two 3s behind the 3-point arc and the crowd of 6,023 at the M.A.C. Center was booming. The Flashes’ lead increased to 45-40 before the Salukis took over.

“We have been down before and came back to win games,” Youngblood said. “We just had that energy. It was there; we just let it go.”

Southern Illinois went on an 11-0 run after Nate Gerwig pushed Kent State’s lead to five. Darren Brooks’ 3 with about eight minutes left increased his team’s lead to four, and Kent State never got any closer.

“We just started talking to each other and said we got to get this thing going again,” Brooks said. “They went on a nice run and took the lead. We just stayed poised and made plays.”

He finished with 14 points, all four of his field goals coming on 3-pointers. Point guard Jamal Tatum finished with a game-high 22 points as three Salukis combined for 50 of their 65 points.

Christian said a lack of mental toughness is what lost his team the game. He was satisfied with the execution but was not with the toughness needed to finish plays. Of Kent State’s 17 rebounds in the first half, 12 came on the offensive end. Yet only three of those 12 second chances were converted into points.

Southern Illinois grabbed 42 rebounds to Kent State’s 34. Twenty-nine of the Salukis’ boards came defensively as shots were missed. Christian said their ability to keep possessions alive with offensive rebounds was where the lack of toughness showed.

He took the blame for it but added it’s too late in the season for these problems to linger.

Contact men’s basketball reporter Matt Goul at [email protected].