Senderoff’s message received, Pippen dominates; five takeaways from win at Buffalo

Junior forward Danny Pippen (5) goes to catch a pass from senior guard Troy Simons (3) on Jan. 21, 2020. Simons had a season high of 24 points at the game vs. Miami University on Jan. 14, 2020.

Ian Kreider

Antonio Williams, Troy Simons, Anthony Roberts, Danny Pippen and Philip Whittington watched from the bench as senior guard CJ Williamson led Kent State to an early 7-6 lead over the first five minutes.

Coach Rob Senderoff wanted to send a message to his team. The Flashes were outrebounded 45-28 in Tuesday’s loss to Northern Illinois, extending their losing streak to three games.

The normal starting lineup, comprised of five double digit scorers, watched as a limited lineup of Williamson, Mitch Peterson, Tervell Beck, Evan Bainbridge and Kalin Bennett scored just seven points in the first 5:21.

They may have been woefully limited, especially offensively, but they played with something that the normal starters haven’t played with in the past three games—  effort.

Here are five takeaways from the Flashes’ 70-66 win at Buffalo:

1. Pippen’s turning back into the player he was earlier in the season. 

He banked in a 3-pointer with less than five seconds on the shot clock to give Kent State a 64-61 lead with under three minutes left. The Flashes were able to go to him on offense, and he made the right decision most times. His offensive efficiency was more impactful than his two assists suggest. 

He made the right reads almost every time in the half-court set, finishing with only one turnover. Here’s an example of him drawing the defense and finding the right player in scoring possession:

He scored Kent State’s final nine points, including 6-for-6 from the foul line to close the game. His ability to catch the ball inside and back down smaller defenders paired with his outside shooting makes him a unique scorer. He showcased his scoring ability Friday night.

His defense and hustle plays also helped the Flashes snap their three-game losing streak. He blocked three shots for the first time in a month. He’s finished with two or more blocks three times in MAC play, but he’s also finished without a block just as many games. If he can increase his ability to alter shots inside, Kent State should be able to hold most of the MAC below 70 points per game.

2. Roberts looked the best he has running the offense.

The question of who can run the offense when Williams is off the floor was answered—  at least for Friday night. Roberts is one of, if not the most, talented underclassmen in the MAC. With that being said, he forces shots far too often in losing efforts. 

Friday night was different. He scored nine points on 4-for-9 shooting, a less than eye-catching box score, but he ran the offense and limited his mistakes. His one turnover came on a shot clock violation with less than six minutes left.

He pushed the call up the floor enough for the Flashes to mostly avoid their offensive slumps brought on by slow, isolation half court sets.

If he can continue to operate the offense while not forcing contested shots, Kent State’s chances of winning increase dramatically. 

3. Simons played his best game since the loss at Miami.

After a career performance at Miami, Simons scored 15 points in two games on 17.9 percent shooting. He scored three points and fouled out in the loss against Northern Illinois. 

He played much better at Buffalo, scoring 16 points while going 4-for-9 from three. He added three assists and only turned the ball over once. 

He went on a 5-0 run to give Kent State a 53-47 lead with 10 minutes left. He scored eight points in both halves, but did not score in the final 10 minutes. 

4. Williamson grabbed a career-high nine rebounds and provided much-needed scoring early in the game.

He scored five of Kent State’s first seven points over the first five minutes of the game. He led a group that consisted of freshmen who had never started and seniors with limited offensive capabilities. The lineup of Williamson, Beck, Bainbridge and Bennett outscored Buffalo 7-6 and gave the normal starting lineup a standard of the type of effort needed to win.

Williamson looked like he belonged in the starting lineup and Senderoff played him down the stretch instead of Whittington.

“He’s pissed at me all the time because I don’t start him, and he started last year,” Senderoff said with a laugh in a postgame interview with CBS Sports Network. “He played with great energy and late in the game when the ball was on the ground he was the one who dug it out.”

5. Senderoff’s message was received.

After being outrebounded 45-28 on Tuesday night against Northern Illinois and criticizing his team for a lack of effort, Senderoff opted for a much less experienced lineup to reenergize the normal starting unit.

“We have a really good team,” Senderoff said. “The really good team showed up tonight. We’d struggled for about 10 days. One or two plays and our record is very different, but that’s the difference in this conference.”

The defense, which struggled to get a stop during the three-game losing streak, had its best performance since the 79-61 win at Bowling Green on Jan. 3. 

“There’s a lot of stuff [the coaches] are communicating, and it’s going in one ear and out the other,” Senderoff said after the Flashes’ 76-69 loss against Northern Illinois. “That’s a problem.”

That problem was clearly addressed by Senderoff on Friday night.

Kent State’s next game is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Toledo. The Flashes beat the Rockets 84-77 on Jan. 7. Toledo has won three of its four games since losing at Kent State.