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Record-Courier staff report
Kent State finished off the BracketBuster series in style, and took a step towards erasing the memories of a string of stinging last-minute losses by defeating host Loyola-Chicago of the Horizon League 70-63 on Saturday afternoon at Gentile Arena.
The Golden Flashes (15-12) were coming off an overtime setback at Mid-American Conference power Ohio last Saturday, their fifth league defeat in a game decided in the last two minutes. They snapped a four-game road losing skid and finished 7-4 in BracketBuster games thanks to a defense that turned stingy following a shaky start and a well-rounded offense led by senior Chris Evans, who led four KSU players in double-figures with 16 points and 10 rebounds -- his sixth double-double of the season.
Sophomore guard Kris Brewer continued his recent string of solid performances, contributing 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field. He nailed all three attempts from behind the arc and dished out five assists against one turnover.
Junior forward Darren Goodson also continued his upswing, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds, while senior guard Randal Holt added 13 points despite hitting just 1-of-8 3s.
Goodson scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half, and has now reached double-figures in seven of his last eight games while Brewer cracked double digits for the fifth consecutive contest.
Kent State caught a break as senior forward Ben Averkamp, the Ramblers' leading scorer and rebounder, missed his fifth consecutive game due to a concussion. Still, Loyola-Chicago (14-14) jumped out to a 20-9 lead after a 3-pointer by Jordan Hicks.
The Flashes quickly recovered, going up 29-28 after Holt's lone 3.
They then grabbed momentum in the closing seconds of the first half when Evans extended his team's lead to 38-33 on a tomahawk dunk, then rejected a layup by Loyola's Christian Thomas at the buzzer.
"During our week off, we had been talking a lot about the importance of finishing halves," said Evans. "The last week really helped our bodies and helped us focus on some details, like how we play the last five minutes of each half. We didn't play well in the first 15 minutes, so we wanted to finish the half on a good note. We really turned it up right before the half."
Kent State carried that momentum into the second half, extending the lead to 42-33 in the opening minute after a layup by Brewer capped an 11-0 run.
After the Ramblers closed to within 42-38, Flashes junior swingman Bryson Pope nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing -- just his sixth 3 of the year -- to push the lead back up to seven. Pope contributed seven points and four rebounds off the bench, and is 10-for-10 from the field over the past three games.
"Bryson Pope has been playing better," said KSU coach Rob Senderoff. "He is playing the way we expected him to play when when he first came here."
Junior forward Mark Henniger scored back-to-back baskets in the paint off assists from Evans and Brewer to push the lead to 11.
Loyola trimmed the lead to 62-56, but Evans made two free throws to keep Kent State in control. The Flashes then survived some late-game mistakes and held off a Rambler rally in the closing minute to secure the victory.
"We didn't do as well finishing the second half," Senderoff admitted. "But I thought Kris Brewer hit a 3 when the game got tight that I thought was very important. And early in the first half, when we were struggling to score, Darren Goodson did a great job keeping us in it."
The Flashes withstood a monster effort by Thomas, a 6-foot-5 sophomore swingman, who scored 31 points while going 11-for-19 from the field and 9-of-13 from the foul line. Freshman guard Devon Turk was the only other player to reach double figures (10 points) for the Ramblers, who lost for the sixth time in seven games.
Meanwhile Kent State closed the BracketBuster series with a victory, and more importantly kept alive its hopes of winning 20 games for the 14th time in 15 years.
"It was good to get a win, whether in league or out of league," said Senderoff. "Now we have to come back on Wednesday (at home against Buffalo). Hopefully our fans will be out there at the M.A.C. Center because it is a big game in the league standings."
The Bulls (11-16, 6-6 MAC) currently rest in third place in the MAC East Division, one game ahead of the Flashes.