For the fourth game in a row, the Kent State men’s basketball team found itself in a game that went down to the wire.
A pair of late threes and some clutch free throw shooting from junior forward Danny Pippen put the Flashes on the winning side when the buzzer sounded.
Kent State’s 70-66 victory at the University at Buffalo snaps the Flashes’ three-game losing streak and keeps them in the thick of the Mid-American Conference race.
Buffalo did not lead from 3:16 left in the first half until 4:24 in the second, when the Bulls went on a 10-point run to take a 60-58 lead.
On the very next possession, with the momentum swinging to Buffalo and another Kent State possession collapsing, sophomore guard Anthony Roberts hit a deep three as the shot clock expired.
Buffalo made a FT to tie the game again, but Danny Pippen hit a similarly late three to take a lead the Flashes would not surrender.
“Big players gotta make big plays,” Pippen said. “My teammates found a way to get me the ball, and without them I can’t make those plays.”
After three close losses led to questions about intensity and leadership, the Flashes decided to get creative.
Kent State went with a starting lineup that saw all five usual Kent starters on the bench, and two freshmen on the floor in center Kalin Bennet and forward Evan Bainbridge.
“We didn’t start all five starters, [but] we have a really good team and that team showed up tonight,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “Really proud of the team to battle back. We started out great with the guys that hadn’t started and then continued with our other guys.”
One of those usual starters who rode the bench early was Pippen, who would come off the bench for the first time all year to lead the Flashes with 20 points.
Pippen also had six rebounds, two assists and three blocks, but where he contributed the most from was the freethrow line, hitting six FTs in the final 21 seconds to seal a Kent State victory.
Kent State’s second leading scorer was Troy Simons, the leading 3-point shooter in the MAC who nonetheless had struggled in Kent State’s last two games.
Simons seemed to have his shot back against Buffalo, going 4-9 from beyond the arc to score 16 and added three assists.
Sophomore guard Anthony Roberts scored nine, but had an outsized impact on the offense, which he ran after senior guard Antonio Williams fouled out for the third time.
Williams did not have a huge scoring night, but Senderoff was pleased with all of his five average leading scorers.
“If you go through our five [usual] starters they all average double figures, they’re all really important players to us,” Senderoff said. “Tonight I think they all, in their own way, had a huge contribution. They were great teammates on the bench to start the game, and that’s really what it’s about.”
Before those five even entered the game, the Flashes were already up 5-2, with all the scoring coming from senior guard C.J. Williamson.
Williamson led the team in both rebounds and steals with nine and four, respectively.
“[Williamson] is pissed at me all the time because I don’t start him and he started last year,” Senderoff said. “He played with great energy. When we had a jump ball there late, the ball was on the ground and he was the one who dug it out. … We have missed a couple of those 50/50 balls in some of these other games that have cost us. To see him as a senior do that tonight is huge.”
With Kent State back in the win column and now tied for third in the MAC East, the team will try to learn from that three game skid.
The field at the top of the MAC is crowded, and Senderoff knows that as well as anyone.
“One or two plays and our record is a lot different,” he said. “But that’s the difference in this conference, is one or two plays. Just really proud of the team to battle back.”
Kent State is back on the road on Tuesday in a rematch against the University of Toledo, as the Flashes try to catch Bowling Green and Akron in the MAC East race.
Contact Owen MacMillan at [email protected]