By Allen Moff | Staff writer
Things were just going a bit too smoothly Saturday night for the snake-bitten Kent State men's basketball team.
As the Golden Flashes (13-11, 4-6 MAC) were slapping the finishing touches on an offensively fueled 87-72 victory over Central Michigan (9-14, 2-8) at the M.A.C. Center, star senior guard Chris Evans suddenly tumbled to the floor with 3:19 to play and his team comfortably ahead by 12.
Evans' wails of pain could be heard in the upper deck as he lay face down on the court for several minutes, pounding his fists into the floor. Kent State's leading scorer and rebounder eventually got up, but needed two trainers to help him to the bench, unable to put any pressure on his right foot.
"I didn't see it happen, I just heard him scream," said KSU coach Rob Senderoff. "He said that he came down on (teammate Bryson Pope's) foot or something like that; he landed on Bryson's foot or rolled his foot on Bryson's leg or something like that."
After the contest ended Evans was unable to join the postgame handshake line, but did manage to limp into the locker room on his own.
"They think that he probably sprained his ankle. I don't think it's something that will prohibit him from playing, but I'm not 100 percent sure," said Senderoff.
Evans' injury cast a sour note on an otherwise sensational night for Kent State and its surging offense, which produced its second-highest point total of the season to help ease the pain of four stinging last-minute losses in the previous six contests.
All five starters reached double figures for the Flashes, led by Evans with 19 points and a game-high eight rebounds. Junior forward Darren Goodson continued his string of steady performances, finishing with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists with no turnovers; Kris Brewer dished out a career-high seven assists with just one turnover, and also drilled 3-of-5 3s while scoring 16 points; senior guard Randal Holt tossed in 15 points, while junior forward Mark Henniger scored all 10 of his points in the second half.
Kent State finished the game with 18 assists on 29 made baskets with just seven turnovers, and shot nearly 56 percent from the field.
"This was probably our best offensive performance in league play, moving the basketball, not turning it over, getting good shots," said Senderoff. "(Brewer) probably had his best overall game, and that was probably Darren's best overall game. Our two main guys (Evans and Holt) will always be the same, but it sure helps when you have multiple guys that can score the ball."
The Flashes have now won two of their last three games, and are averaging 80 points per contest during that stretch. They averaged just 64 points per outing and cracked 70 just once in their first seven league games, shooting 38 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from the 3-point line with 73 assists compared to 103 turnovers. However, in the last three games Kent State is shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from 3-point range, with 43 assists to 29 turnovers.
What's been the difference?
"I think the reason we struggled is we were taking too many one-on-one shots," said Senderoff. "We were a very good offensive team in the non-conference portion of our schedule, but in the beginning of league play we really struggled. I think we've gotten back to moving the basketball a lot better, and that's helped us score more because we're getting better shots. Randal's shooting the ball a little bit better, which helps, and we've got some other guys stepping in and making some plays."
One player who has continually stepped up for the past eight games is Goodson, who is averaging 13 points over that stretch. He brought scoring punch and energy in the first half, scoring 12 points and dishing out three assists to help the hot-shooting Flashes take a 44-40 halftime lead.
"I'm tired of losing," said Goodson. "I thought if I could come out and be energetic it would help the team. We know that when we share the ball no one can stop us really. Simple as that."
Actually, no one could stop anyone in the first half.
Kent State buried 6-of-8 3-pointers in the first seven minutes of the game, yet led just 22-21 as the Chippewas sunk nine of their first 12 field-goal attempts and hit three 3s of their own. The Flashes' ninth 3-pointer of the half, a baseline bomb by sophomore Devareaux Manley, came with 7:12 still to go and put his team up 36-30.
The lead reached seven twice, but Central Michigan cut it right back down to two at 42-40 with a Blake Hibbitts 3-pointer before a Goodson layup off a pass from Holt gave Kent State a 44-40 halftime edge.
The Flashes put on a passing clinic in the first half, recording 13 assists on 17 made baskets with just four turnovers. They shot 57 percent from the field, made 9-of-15 3s despite missing their last three attempts … and still were only up by four.
That's because the Chippewas were equally adept offensively, with 12 assists on 17 baskets compared to just two turnovers. Nine CMU players scored in the first half alone.
"We had played a great offensive half. I was a little concerned because when you make 9 3s in a half and you're only up four, you know you can't keep that pace up," said Senderoff. "But we didn't guard at all. It was disappointing. That was really what was talked about at halftime. We just had to defend. That was really it."
Kent State's defense started to take root early in the second half, while the offense kept chugging along. A three-point play by Evans with 14:26 left finished a 7-0 run that pushed the lead to 60-48. The Chippewas trimmed the deficit to 60-55 after a pair of free throws by star senior guard Kyle Randall, but the Flashes responded with an 8-1 surge topped off by an Evans dunk to push it right back up to 12 with 8:34 to play.
Central Michigan made one last mini-run, crawling to within 68-61 on a layup by reserve sophomore guard Austin Keel (10 points), but a 6-0 run moments later culminated by a Henniger layup gave Kent State a 78-65 cushion with 4:01 to play. The lead remained in double-digits the rest of the way.
"In the second half we started out pretty well and got ourselves going defensively, and that was the difference in the game for us," said Senderoff.
The Flashes are starting to look like a different team than the one that dropped four straight league games at the end of January, and a little more like one that's coming off 14 consecutive seasons with 19 wins or more.
"I see our team gelling," said Holt. "Everybody's finding out what it is that they do well for us and just bringing that every night. We're trying to come together and play our best basketball going into the MAC Tournament."
Of course, any chances of doing just that are remote at best without a healthy Evans.
"He'll come back (today) and get some more treatment, and we'll see how he responds," said Senderoff, whose Flashes will host Miami (8-14, 3-7) on Wednesday.
Randall finished with 20 points, hitting 20 for the fourth straight game, to lead the Chippewas.