“Mamba mentality: We stand together and we stay mentally strong”: Five takeaways from Kent State’s 21-point comeback win at Toledo

Antonio Williams (4) goes up for a layup against Toledo’s Luke Maranka (12) on Jan. 28 at the M.A.C.C.

Kent State reverted to bad habits over the first 12 minutes of the game. 

The Flashes settled for pull-up jump shots instead of penetrating for easier looks.

They allowed Toledo to score inside with little resistance.

They put themselves in a 21-point hole because a lack of effort.

Trailing 31-10 with under seven minutes left in the first half, senior guard Antonio Williams stole the ball for a third time. He finished a transition layup to cut the deficit to 19 points.

The layup sparked a 22-4 run by Kent State to cut the Rockets’ lead to 35-32 at halftime. Williams added 10 points in the second half, and he finished with 21 points. 

His effort reverberated across the team, as the Flashes’ defense limited Toledo to 12 points in the paint in the second half. 

Senior guard Troy Simons scored 25 points, a new career-high, and he seemed to be the go-to player on offense for the majority of the second half.

Williams and Simons each played some of their best basketball of the season, but they’re not the only reason Kent State beat Toledo 83-70. Here are five takeaways from the 21-point comeback win:

  1. The Flashes are a deep team. Their depth mixed with their experience allows them to stay in games most teams couldn’t.

This fact has been lost at times this season. A lack of effort paired with poor shot selection have resulted in several losses in close games. Kent State has five seniors and Danny Pippen, who’s in his fourth season after a redshirt season.

The trio of Williams, Simons and sophomore guard Anthony Roberts is arguably the best backcourt in the conference. Roberts only scored eight points on 2-for-8 shooting, but after some poor shot selection early he deferred to Williams and Simons who were having more success.

Williams sparked the first half run that allowed the Flashes to claw back from a 21-point deficit. His hustle plays and leadership were more apparent in Tuesday’s game than at any other time this season. 

“Mamba mentality: we stand together and we stay mentally strong,” Williams said in the postgame interview with ESPN+.

Simons iced the game at the foul line, going 9-for-11 for the game, and 7-for-8 over the final three minutes.

  1. Junior forward Danny Pippen continued his defensive surge, as he helped limit Toledo’s Luke Knapke in the second half.

Knpake opened the game scoring 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting in the first 16 minutes. He ended the game with 17 points and failed to make a field goal over the final 24 minutes. Pippen had a lot to do with that. 

He may have only recorded two blocks, but his presence inside limited Knpake’s impact on the game. Toledo scored 20 points in the paint in the first half. That number was cut nearly in half over the final 20 minutes in large part to Pippen’s presence in the paint.

Kent State’s guards helped suffocate Knapke, but Pippen’s one-on-one defense garnered success as well. The defensive rotations of the Flashes as a whole bothered the Rockets in the second half.

Those rotations come much easier when Pippen plays like the best defensive anchor in the Mid American Conference.

  1. Senior guard CJ Williamson is Kent State’s spark plug.

Over his last three games, he’s averaging 10 points on 53.8 percent shooting. He’s helped the Flashes go on several runs throughout the season, and Tuesday night he added another game to that list.

He went on a 6-0 run to cut Toledo’s lead to 35-27 with under two minutes left in the first half. His confidence in recent games have allowed the Flashes to give Williams, Simons or Roberts rest for short spurts. 

“We needed some fire power from somewhere,” Williams said. “Some people off the bench gave us some fire power, and it turned us up, and got our guys going.”

  1. Tuesday night showcased the Flashes’ ability to win games in a variety of ways.

Kent State utilized everyone on the court. At first it was Pippen who scored. Then they had spurts with senior Philip Whittington. Then Williams and Simons took over. Even Roberts added a late dagger from midrange to essentially end any chance of a comeback. 

The Flashes don’t have one way to beat an opponent. They have five. Williams and Simons may have combined to score 46 points, but Pippen, Whittington and Roberts all had smaller roles that still had a great impact on the outcome. 

  1. If Kent State can consistently get transition opportunities, they can win any game.

The athleticism of Williams, Simons, Roberts and Pippen in the open floor is tough to deal with individually, but with those four on the court at the same time — it’s unfair.

The Flashes outscored Toledo 21-4 in fastbreak points. The transition opportunities created by Williams in the first half allowed a stagnant Kent State offense to find its rhythm. If they can continue to push the tempo during stretches of games, they should continue to have the same success.

Kent State will play its next game on Friday against Akron at 6:30 p.m. The Zips lost to Buffalo 77-74 on Tuesday night. The last time Kent State and Akron played in March of last season, the Flashes won 68-65.

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