By Allen Moff | Staff writer
A once promising season is suddenly teetering on the brink of disaster for the Kent State men's basketball team.
The Golden Flashes suffered their fourth consecutive loss Wednesday night, a last-second 67-65 setback at Mid-American Conference doormat Northern Illinois that leaves them just one game above .500 overall (11-10) and tied for last in the MAC at 2-5.
Hard to believe that less than two weeks ago, this same group entered a Jan. 19 home showdown with rival Akron winners of six of its last seven games, and had the mighty Zips down 10 at halftime. But that one got away in the closing minutes, and the Flashes have yet to stop the bleeding.
The Akron loss was followed by an ugly 15-point defeat at Bowling Green, then a gut-wrenching one-point home loss to defending MAC Tournament champion Ohio, followed by a potentially devastating 67-65 loss to a Huskies squad (5-14) that managed just 25 total points in its previous game at Eastern Michigan.
"In a lot of ways we are now at a crossroads," said second-year KSU coach Rob Senderoff on Thursday morning, as his team was preparing to fly home from DeKalb, Ill. "Our team is three possessions in three different games away from being 5-2 (in the MAC), but we're 2-5 and you are what your record says you are. We are struggling to make the plays that we need to make when we need to make them."
The Flashes find themselves in one of those ruts, where each night something different breaks down.
One night it's rebounding, the next night it's turnovers. The only consistent aspect of the team is inconsistency.
"We have a lot of guys struggling right now," said Senderoff. "Confidence is obviously an issue."
The players themselves have struggled with consistency issues since day one, to a man. Senior Chris Evans had been the only player that had managed to keep his play at a high level virtually every game of the season -- until the trip to Northern Illinois.
Evans was forced to the bench after picking up two quick fouls and never got into the flow. He entered the contest ranked second in the MAC in scoring (17.1 ppg) and fourth in rebounding (7.4 rpg), but managed just seven points and did not grab a single board against the Huskies. He also was attempting to guard Northern Illinois sophomore Abdel Nader when the Huskies' guard drained the game-winning 17-foot jumper with 2.2 seconds remaining.
"Our team has two guys that are our main guys and when they play poorly, we struggle," said Senderoff, referring to Evans and fellow senior Randal Holt, who is KSU's lone returning starter. "We're having some other guys play better. (Junior forward) Darren Goodson has played better of late. But we need them all. We don't have (much) margin for error."
Holt, who suffered a knee injury last June and did not begin practicing until days before the season opener, continues to struggle through a dreadful shooting slump. After shooting 43.5 percent from the field last year, Holt's field-goal percentage has slipped to 33 percent this season. Holt's 3-point shooting percentage is still a respectable 34.8 percent, even after a 1-for-10 effort against the Huskies, but he's hitting just 31.7 percent of his two-point shots for the year.
Holt's backcourt mate, sophomore point guard Kris Brewer, is having troubles of his own. After playing sparingly a year ago, Brewer is averaging just 2.2 assists compared to 2.7 turnovers per game as a first-year starter.
"I play a point guard (Brewer) 35 minutes a night who is a sophomore, and he's struggling with his assist-to-turnover ratio," said Senderoff. "I'm playing a two-guard (Holt) who had major knee surgery and is having a poor year shooting the basketball. Our post players play a lot of minutes and don't rebound. I've gotta work with them. I've gotta find a way to make them play better."
The Flashes returned just two of their top eight scorers from a year ago, so inconsistency was bound to be an issue, but was not expected to this degree.
"Experience probably has something to do with it, but at the same time that's an excuse," said Senderoff. "We've gotta find a way to get over the hump. We've gotta trust each other a little bit more on the court, and we've gotta make the plays we need to make."
As the Flashes attempt to salvage their season beginning with Saturday's 6 p.m. home matchup against Eastern Michigan (10-10, 3-3), they have one crucial element to success on their side: Tradition. Kent State has won 19 or more games for 14 consecutive seasons, and will not let that streak end without a fight.
"We're gonna keep grinding. We're gonna practice hard and be prepared and come out in the next game with a mindset and a focus to try to get a win," said Senderoff. "I believe in these guys We just have to find a way to get over the hump. There's a lot of games left, but the clock is ticking."