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Consistency was expected to be a difficult trait for the Kent State men's basketball team to master during the 2012-13 campaign, and it certainly has been.
After losing six of their top eight scorers from last year, the Golden Flashes were forced to plug a multitude of holes with a group of raw players that are either new to the program entirely, or who have been mere bit parts in the past.
With so many new faces playing huge roles, the team has struggled through its share of ups and downs thus far. Winning streaks of three and four have a three-game losing streak sandwiched in between.
But the fact that the ups have outweighed the downs thus far is encouraging, according to second-year coach Rob Senderoff.
"Consistency has certainly been an issue, but we have won five out of our last six now," Senderoff noted. "I think a big reason for that is we have been getting a little more consistent with our defensive effort in particular."
Stout defense helped the Flashes (10-6, 1-1 Mid-American Conference) rebound from their most discouraging setback of the season, a 70-58 home loss to Toledo in their MAC opener last Wednesday that snapped a four-game winning streak.
Kent State bounced back to defeat host Ball State 61-47 on Saturday, holding the Cardinals to 27.5 percent shooting from the field.
"Ball State shot a poor percentage, and I think our defense definitely had something to do with that," said Senderoff. "For us to win, we have to have everybody playing well and playing really hard, and that's exactly what we got from everyone at Ball State."
While the season has been a roller-coaster ride for each of the Flashes' newcomers, senior Chris Evans has been rock-solid all season. Kent State's Sixth Man of a Year ago has vaulted himself into the league's elite, currently ranking third in the MAC in scoring (16.6 ppg), fourth in rebounding (7.3 rpg) and fifth in steals (1.8 spg).
Senior guard Randal Holt, KSU's only returning starter, has struggled through a lengthy shooting slump, but may have broken loose against Ball State. After shooting 24.5 percent from the field in the previous eight games, Holt scored a game-high 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field against the Cardinals.
"Chris Evans and Randal are our main guys, and everybody knows it," said Senderoff. "We are going to go as far as they take us, but they can't do it alone. We need guys to do what they do and do it every night. That's a big key for us."
Kent State has actually played its best basketball on the road, going 4-2 with impressive victories over Ball State, Nebraska, Youngstown State and Cleveland State. The Flashes will face another stern road test tonight when they travel to Buffalo.
The Bulls are struggling at 5-11, and are 0-2 in the league after losing to Miami 58-57 at home on Saturday. However, Buffalo has always been a tough place to play for the Flashes, who have lost four in a row at Alumni Arena.
To stop that skid, Kent State will need to hang tough inside against 6-foot-7 junior forward Javon McCrea (15.1 points, 6.8 rebounds per game) and 6-8 sophomore forward Will Regan (10.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg). McCrea and Regan lead a Buffalo squad that's third in the league in rebounding margin at plus-5.6.
"They are a great rebounding team, always have been," said Senderoff. "We're gonna have to do a good job on their two post players (McCrea and Regan), which are their two leading scorers. But rebounding the basketball, that's first and foremost. That will be a huge key to this game for us."
After visiting Buffalo tonight, the Flashes will return home to host rival Akron (11-4, 2-0) in a nationally televised game on Saturday at 3 p.m.