The Golden Flashes (2-1, 1-0 MAC) won for the first time since 1992 at University Arena, where the Cardinals had triumphed in 38 of their last 40 home games, and defeated a Ball State squad (1-1, 0-1) that was fresh off a season-opening upset victory at Michigan.
"I think the key was the matchup," said Kent coach Gary Waters. "Michigan couldn't match them as far as size."
The Flashes fell behind 11-2 early on as Ball State junior guard Duane Clemens (game-high 20 points) scored seven quick points. But Kent crawled back into the game thanks in big part to the shooting of Ed Norvell.
The senior swingman hit three 3-pointers in the first half, including one at the buzzer that brought the Flashes within 32-28 at halftime.
"We started the game with momentum," said Cardinals coach Ray McCallum, "and by the end of the first half the momentum shifted."
A three-point play by Norvell tied the game at 36 early in the second half, and the two teams fought tooth-and-nail for the next several minutes before a short jumper by reserve forward Eric Thomas gave Kent a 59-57 lead with 3:18 remaining.
Then the Flashes took over down the stretch.
A layup by sophomore forward Kyrem Massey off a Norvell feed and a pair of Massey free throws increased the Kent advantage to 63-57 with 2:09 to play.
After a three-point play by Clemens brought Ball State within three, junior center John Whorton put the finishing touches on the victory with a pair of buckets that gave the Flashes a 67-60 lead with under one minute remaining.
"They didn't respond to our run in the second half," said Waters. "The team that responds to runs is the team that is going to come out victorious. In the second half, fatigue was a big factor. We wore them down."
Kent, which shot just 60 percent from the free-throw line as a team a year ago, hit 14-of-18 from the charity stripe against Ball State (78 percent) and nailed 7-of-13 3-pointers.
The Flashes shot 54 percent from the field overall, while holding the Cardinals to just 38 percent.
Norvell led four Kent players in double figures with 12 points and seven assists. Whorton, Massey and John Callaway added 10 points each, while Whorton also finished with a game-high seven rebounds.
Kent will host Wilberforce Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Kent State 73, Ball State 60
(At University Arena)
Blocked shots _ Kent State (3): Massey, Whorton, Mitchell. Ball State (3): Davis, Moodie, Jones. Turnovers _ Kent State, 15-12. Technical fouls _ None. Attendance _ 5,096.