Eastern Michigan’s stingy 2-3 zone holds Flashes under 50 points for first time since 2014

Junior forward Danny Pippen (5) attempts a shot against Akron on Jan. 31, 2020. Kent State University won 68-67, as Pippen scored a game-high 20 points.

Ian Kreider Sports reporter

After scoring a conference-high 87 points on Saturday, Kent State followed with its lowest-scoring total in six seasons.

The Flashes beat Ohio 87-72 four days ago, and four players scored in double digits. On Tuesday, junior forward Danny Pippen was the only player to accomplish that feat.

It was their worst team shooting performance since Dec. 21, 2016 in a 69-50 loss at Oregon State.

The Flashes drop to 17-9, 7-6 in Mid-American Conference play. Here are five takeaways from Kent State’s 70-49 loss at Eastern Michigan:

1. Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 zone suffocated Kent State’s already stagnant halfcourt offense.

The Flashes missed plenty of open shots. They finished 16-for-55 from the field and 5-for-31 from 3-point range. Senior guard Troy Simons paced their poor shooting performance from the 3-point line, finishing 1-for-8. He averages nearly three made threes per game, but his inability to score from outside allowed Eastern Michigan to key on other players around the perimeter.

One of those players was senior guard Antonio Williams, who had one of his worst games of the season. He went 1-for-4 from the field with three of his attempts coming from the 3-point line.

Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 zone walled off the paint, limiting driving lanes for him. The lack of penetration created turnovers and frustration. Williams finished with one assist and five turnovers and fouled out after picking up a technical foul with 2:09 left. 

2. Williams’ turnovers and lack of driving lanes limited the offense.

In Saturday’s win, Williams often sliced through the defense, creating open shots around the perimeter. All seven of his assists resulted in made threes.

The Eagles’ defense frustrated Williams. The lack of fast break opportunities limited his impact on the game, as did a zone that provided pressure before he could get inside the 3-point line. 

His lone assist came at the 13:45 mark of the first half, resulting in a made 3-pointer by Pippen.

3. Simons can be an effective passer within the offense.

He totaled a career-high six assists, including two alley-oop passes on cuts from senior guard CJ Williamson and Williams. He turned the ball over twice, including on another alley-oop pass attempt to Williams. Here’s the pass to Williamson:

He shot the ball poorly, but he stepped into a playmaker role with Williams struggling to find driving lanes to allow for open looks for others. Three of Simons’ six assists resulted in made threes. He operated the offense mainly from the perimeter, specifically the corner and the wing. 

He finished with five points, but his improved passing could prove valuable when Williams struggles. 

4. Pippen’s first half kept the Flashes in the game, but his second half shooting provided little help for a struggling offense.

He scored eight points in the first half, including making two of his four 3-pointers. In the second half he grabbed eight rebounds and went 5-for-7 from the foul line, but 1-for-3 from the field. 

Kent State scored 21 points in the second half, as almost half of its production came from the free-throw line. 

He finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, tallying his sixth double-double of the season.

He was the only player to provide any offensive spark for the Flashes outside of senior guard Mitch Peterson and junior forward Tervell Beck. Peterson and Beck combined for 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting. The duo obtained the best combined field goal percentage and, outside of Pippen, were the most effective offensive players.

5. Kent State can’t string together consecutive games.

The Flashes are arguably the most inconsistent team in the MAC. They score 87 points during a complete game against a young, surging Ohio, but follow it by scoring less than 50 points.

Eastern Michigan’s held four of its last six opponents under 60 points. But Kent State’s outside shooting should have presented a problem.

It did not.

The lack of movement around the perimeter allowed for the Eagles to pressure ball handlers and play passing lanes. Kent State forced 16 turnovers, but several potential scoring opportunities were nullified by hustling Eastern Michigan defenders.

The Flashes scored 10 second chance points in the first half as they trailed 30-28 at halftime. They had seven second chance points in the second half, but they came when the game was pretty much decided. 

Kent State will play Buffalo at 7 p.m. on Friday at the M.A.C. Center.

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