It's tempting to say Kent State was simply robbed. The ball just didn't bounce their way and the calls certainly didn't go their way in the final minute, and Ball State was able to steal a gut-wrenching 58-56 victory from the Golden Flashes Saturday afternoon at the MAC Center because of that based on legitimate common logic. But Gary Waters knows better. The Flashes' mentor will be the first to declare this game was lost long before senior Ed Norvell's potential game-winning shot rolled off the rim with two seconds remaining. "That was just one play. That didn't lose this game," said Waters, whose squad dropped its first contest of the year at home to a team it had defeated on the road earlier this year. "We lost this game in the first half. We didn't execute on offense, and that allowed them to stay in their zone. And we let two players come off the bench and score that shouldn't have. "That was the key to this game." The halftime score appears relatively harmless: Ball State 31, Kent 29. But Waters was fretting over what could have been. After the Flashes' starters produced an early 6-4 lead, he inserted his second five. When they exited less than two minutes later, Ball State (12-5, 6-3) led 13-6 after switching to a zone defense that brought the home team's offense to a screeching halt. Kent (13-5, 6-4 MAC) couldn't muster any offense inside against the zone, and it couldn't throw the ball in the ocean from the perimeter (1-of-11 3-pointers). "You have to capitalize inside against a zone, but we didn't," said Waters. "(Junior center John) Whorton was ineffective, and that shouldn't have happened." Meanwhile, Ball State junior guard Shane Franks, who entered the game averaging three points per game, scored a career-high 11 points in the first half alone by hitting four wide open jumpers. And freshman guard Patrick Johnson (5 points per game) added nine more as Ball State's bench outscored Kent's reserves 20-7 in the first 20 minutes. "It's not like they were making great shots," said Waters. "Our guys just lost the guys they were guarding. If we stop those two guys, we're way ahead." Instead, the Cardinals pushed the lead to 52-42 with 7:33 remaining before the Flashes finally responded. Sophomore Kyrem Massey, who finished with a game-high 20 points, a career-high 16 rebounds, three steals and two blocks while playing the best all-around game of his collegiate career, tossed in three baseline jumpers to help Kent close to within one. Then Whorton scored off a nifty feed from Norvell to give Kent a 54-53 advantage. After the Cardinals' Marcus Mason scored on a putback, the Flashes grabbed the lead again when point guard Andrew Mitchell's finger roll floated through the net with 33 seconds left. Ball State called a timeout at midcourt, and Kent appeared to force a turnover on the ensuing inbound pass. But guard Mickey Hosier tossed the ball back in play before crashing into the scorer's table, and Massey was called for a loose ball foul while contesting Jerome Davis for possession. Flashes' supporters were livid, and for good reason according to Waters. "We looked at the tape, and (Hosier's) foot was on the sideline," he said. "But the official didn't see it because he was trying to get out of the way. That's the way it goes." Davis, who scored nine points off the bench in the second half, hit both free throws to give Ball State a 57-56 lead with 20 seconds left. Kent still had a chance to pull it out with one last possession. Norvell ended up with the ball in the left corner, penetrated with his right hand and tossed up a runner that rolled off the iron. "That wasn't a set play. We drew up a play expecting to see a man defense, and they came out in a zone," said Norvell. "I saw the middle open and I tried to draw a foul while shooting. That's probably why it came up short." But the Flashes came up short because they shot 39 percent from the field, hit just 2-of-17 3-pointers, scored only 10 points in the post and were outscored 36-9 by the Cardinals' bench in Waters' eyes. "This is a very disappointing loss," said Waters. "When you lose because of your miscues compared to a team just beating you, that's disappointing."