Road losing streak continues

Matt Goul

Early lead lost; rally falls short as Gates’ hot hand ends in final seconds

Sophomore guard Armon Gates goes after the ball on Saturday against Toledo. The Flashes lost to the Rockets 73-70.

Credit: Matt Goul

TOLEDO — Armon Gates’ final two 3-point attempts looked good. He said they felt good as they were released. But neither made him feel any better as they hit the back of the rim and missed.

“I thought they were going in,” Gates said. “My teammates set me up, and they believe in me. It just came off wrong.”

Gates scored a game-high 18 points coming off the bench but needed 21 to send Kent State (13-7, 5-4 Mid-American Conference) into overtime in its 73-70 loss at Toledo (8-9, 4-4 MAC) Saturday.

The first of his last two shots, an open look from the right wing, careened out of bounds with 12 seconds left. The Flashes maintained possession after a scramble for the loose ball. Gates’ final shot was open again after evading a crowd of defenders. Both times, Gates got loose with the aid of screens and picks.

While Gates did not doubt his shots as they were released, neither Kent State coach Jim Christian nor Toledo coach Stan Joplin doubted him taking them.

Gates’ touch was as good as his previous three attempts — which all went in. He cut Toledo’s lead to 67-64 with 2:16 left, cut the lead to two a minute later, then pulled the Flashes within a point with 33 seconds left.

His second of the three straight 3s was more difficult than any of his attempts in the final minutes — off-balanced after collecting a deflected pass. Gates was 6-of-11 from the floor, all coming from behind the 3-point line. Joplin said many were more like NBA 3-point range.

“That’s why we put ‘Trip on him,’” said Joplin, referring to senior guard Keith Triplett. “We said, ‘Don’t leave him,’ but a lack of concentration led to the shot they wanted.”

Gates’ flurry of 3s pulled his team back from a nine-point deficit. The gap started to shrink when Kevin Warzynski hit his only attempt of the second half with 7:08 left. Warzynski missed only one shot and had 14 points in the first half.

Kent State echoed his play throughout.

The Flashes hit 11 of their first 16 shots. They led by 11 twice and turned Toledo defenders into spectators.

“We didn’t do anything right in the second half,” Warzynski said. “In the first half, everything was executing and going well. In the second half, they made their run, and we didn’t remain composed.”

The final seven seconds of the first half is where Kent State’s composure was lost.

The Rockets scored five points within that span before halftime. After freshman point guard Kashif Payne found Kareem Milson for a layup, Jay Youngblood traveled with 1.5 left. Payne drained a fall-away 3 to beat the halftime buzzer, cutting Kent State’s lead to 40-34.

“It helped a lot. It gave guys confidence,” Toledo forward Anton Currie said. “(Payne), he does a good job. That really helped him out, and he played real good after that.”

Currie scored Toledo’s first five points to the start the second half. He scored eight, helping Toledo tie the score on a 12-2 run that started with its two baskets before halftime.

Toledo did not take its first lead of the game until Payne blew through the Kent State defense uncontested with 13:50 left. Triplett then started an eight-point run to take a seven-point lead. The Rockets hit seven straight shots as part of the momentum-turning stretch.

The Flashes never retook the lead.

“They got the ball inside. We did a bad job of defending them in there,” Christian said. “If you don’t get defensive stops, you allow teams to build momentum. We didn’t get any key stops; we didn’t get any rebounds. We didn’t have one player on our team who was aggressively rebounding the basketball.”

Toledo pulled down eight more rebounds than Kent State in the second half. The Rockets also had a 22-12 assist-to-turnover ratio.

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