Kent State’s offensive struggles continue: Five takeaways from Flashes’ second straight loss

Ian Kreider

Junior forward Danny Pippen pulled up from the top of the arc.

He’d hit two 3-pointers over a 34-second stretch near the four-minute mark to tie the game, 50-50. 

After a screen by senior guard Troy Simons, Pippen looked to have a wide open 3-point attempt. But the 6-foot-2 Tyler Cochran provided a contest just before the ball left Pippen’s hands. The shot missed long off the left side of the rim, sealing Kent State’s second straight loss. Here’s the play:

Pippen finished 2-for-7 from three en route to a team-high 16 points. His 36 percent shooting became customary across the starting lineup. Senior forward Philip Whittington and senior guard Antonio Williams each shot under 40 percent. 

The Flashes scored under 60 points for the third time this season, and the second game in a row. Here are five takeaways from their 57-54 loss at Northern Illinois:

1. Kent State couldn’t slow down Eugene German.

The Mid American Conference’s leading scorer (20.1 points per game) scored a season-high 27 points. His quick first step allowed him to get around every defender the Flashes tried to use to slow him down. The majority of his first half scoring came in the paint, more specifically in transition.

Williams tried to guard German in the first half, but his style of defense didn’t work. Williams prefers to lurk around other players when his assignment doesn’t have the ball. Instead of denying German, Williams tried to play passing lanes or double other players.

German scored 14 points in the first half. He scored the Huskies’ first five points of the second half. He added another eight points over the final 15 minutes. 

His most important basket came after ripping a rebound away from Whittington with three minutes left. German dribbled the length of the court and spun into a layup over Pippen’s outstretched arms to give Northern Illinois a 52-50 lead. Here’s the play:

The Flashes drop to 2-2 in games against the top-2 scorers in the MAC.

2. The lack of touches for Simons in the second half limited the offense. 

After hitting two of his first three 3-pointers, Simons appeared to be having the start to a rare complete game. Two of the most recent times that’s happened he’s finished with 24 points and 25 points, respectively against Miami and Toledo. 

He failed to make a three in the second half. He took one shot.

The offense instead opted for high ball handoffs, drives and passes to Whittington and Pippen who were posting up defenders.

Northern Illinois responded by walling off the paint. The Huskies hedged handoffs with their forwards around the top of the arc to slow Williams’ and Roberts’ downhill drives. This approach, paired with helping on Pippen and Whittington, resulted in late, contested jump shots. The Flashes shot under 40 percent for the second straight game and the third time this season.

For whatever reason, Simons was not one of the Kent State players taking shots in the waning seconds of the shot clock, despite his fast start. 

 Here’s his third and final 3-pointer of the game, which tied the game, 32-32, at halftime:

3. Williams’ foul trouble limited the Flashes for the second straight game.

After a steal that led to a Roberts layup to cut Northern Illinois’ lead to 39-38, Williams picked up his fourth foul with 10:41 left. 

He was held scoreless for the remainder of the game. He shot career-worst 33 percent from the foul line, pacing Kent State’s 12-for-21. It was the second straight game the Flashes hovered around 50 percent from the line.

Williams grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. His ineffectiveness to score or create shots for himself or teammates greatly limited the offense. 

4. The lack of scoring in the paint and transition opportunities made the Flashes uncomfortable in halfcourt sets.

Kent State scored 20 points in the paint for just the third time this season. All three occasions have resulted in losses (against UC Irvine and at Miami). 

Anytime Whittington tried his patented post moves, multiple defenders were waiting for him. Walling the paint off to the guards, Whittington and Pippen forced Kent State to settle from the outside. 

The Flashes shot 6-for-24 from three, and were held scoreless for nearly six minutes midway through the second half. 

They scored two fastbreak points and nine points off nine turnovers.

5. Injuries to key players limited Kent State’s rotation.

Junior forward Tervell Beck suffered a heel injury in practice this week and did not play.

Senior guard Mitch Peterson collided with the base of the hoop after drawing a charge on Zaire Mateen. The momentum of the play caused Peterson’s head to collide with the basket stanchion. About 20 minutes later, he was able to stand up with some help from trainers to get on the stretcher. He wore a neck brace and was later evaluated at a local hospital. 

According to the Record Courier’s Allen Moff, coach Rob Senderoff said “Mitch is OK. He hurt his neck, but he’s going to be fine.”

In the absence of Peterson and Beck, Kent State’s defense scored three points. Senior guard CJ Williamson went 0-for-5 and turned the ball over three times.

Peterson and Beck only average a combined 6.1 points per game, but their collective experience was missed. 

Senderoff was forced to play three members of his starting lineup 34 minutes or more. The presence of the bench was nonexistent on both defense and offense. He opted to play junior forward Anyeuri Castillo and freshman center Kalin Bennett, but neither contributed much in six combined minutes.

Kent State will play its next game Feb. 15 at 1 p.m. against Ohio.

Ian Kreider is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].