Henniger leads Kent State past Western Carolina in Coaches vs. Cancer Classic

By Allen Moff | Staff writer Published:

By Allen Moff | Staff writer

Apparently 10 pounds of muscle isn't all that Mark Henniger added during the offseason.

Kent State's 6-foot-9, 230-pound senior forward also improved his game in every phase over the summer, and he put all of those enhancements on display during a 72-59 victory over Western Carolina (3-3) on night No. 1 of Coaches vs. Cancer Classic action at the M.A.C. Center on Thursday.

The former Massillon Jackson High School star who has built a reputation as a solid post defender delivered on that end as usual, grabbing eight rebounds -- including six on the offensive end -- and swatting a pair of shots. But on a night when the Flashes (4-1) struggled for much of the game offensively, Henniger produced a career-high 17 points mostly by doing the dirty work inside. Those six offensive boards led directly to Catamounts fouls and a 9-of-9 effort from the foul line.

Henniger has now produced career-highs in points in back-to-back games, after scoring 13 on Sunday's victory over St. Peter's.

"The weight room has a big thing to do with it," said Henniger, who spent 10 weeks lifting at KSU over the summer along with his teammates.

"Scoring-wise, that was one thing I wanted to work on, I wanted to score more and contribute more to the team."

Henniger also displayed his athleticism by knocking a pass away and going coast-to-coast for a layup as he was fouled, converting a three-point play that brought fans and teammates to their feet while giving his Flashes a 14-point lead and complete control with just under nine minutes to play.

"I used to be a guard back in the day, like seventh grade, then I grew five inches one summer," Henniger smiled. "Anything that anyone does on the team to make a big play like that energizes the team and helps give us momentum."

Henniger led an overall stout defensive effort along with junior guard Derek Jackson, who held Western Carolina senior guard Trey Sumler to four points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field. Sumler entered the game averaging 16 points per contest, and was named the Southern Conference Preseason Player of the Year by College Sports Madness.

Jackson, a transfer from Central Michigan, chipped in on offense as well with nine points to go along with four rebounds and three steals.

"Jackson did such a great job defensively," said KSU coach Rob Senderoff. "Every second that Derek was in the game he was guarding (Sumler), and I thought he did a phenomenal job, as did the whole team but Derek in particular."

The Flashes also dominated the boards, winning 49-39 as four different players had eight rebounds - Henniger, junior guard Devareaux Manley, and sophomore forwards Chris Ortiz (11 minutes) and Khaliq Spicer (12 minutes).

Kent State also finished 24-of-30 from the line, while the Catamounts were 11-of-17. Free-throws helped offset a 2-of-18 effort from 3-point land for KSU, which entered the contest shooting 38 percent from long range.

The Flashes managed to build a five-point halftime lead despite missing 17 of their first 21 field goals and clanking all eight of their 3-point attempts in the opening 20 minutes. Kent State scored just 27 points in the first half, six points less than its previous low half of the season, but the total was on pace to be much less as the Flashes trailed 18-11 with just under eight minutes left in the half.

While Kent State picked up the pace slightly down the stretch, hitting 4-of-6 field goals during one span to take the lead, Western Carolina managed just two points in the final 4:53.

The Flashes went into the locker room shooting 27.6 percent from the floor (8-of-29), slightly worse than the Catamounts' 28.1-percent effort (9-of-32). Both teams had six turnovers, while the Flashes had only two assists on eight baskets - yet still led on the strength of 11-of-15 free-throw shooting, compared to Western Carolina's 3-of-5 effort from the stripe.

Manley gave Kent State's offense a much-needed spark with an energetic effort in the first half. He set the tone by diving on the floor to recover a loose ball on the opening tip, then flipped in a runner while he was knocked to the floor and a jumper to put his team up for good at 21-20 with just over four minutes left in the opening half.

"He dove on the floor three times in the first half," said Senderoff. "I know eight rebounds is a career high for him. He probably never had more than two in a game before."

Six quick points by Henniger, the final two coming on a layup off a lob from senior forward Darren Goodson, helped the Flashes quickly push the advantage to nine at 35-26 to open the second half. Jackson later hit his team's first 3-point basket of the game after nine straight misses to give KSU a 40-34 edge.

A Jackson steal and dunk pushed the cushion to 44-36, then Kent State took complete command with a 9-0 run highlighted by Henniger's steal and coast-to-coast three-point play.

"(Henniger) played great," said Senderoff. "He's gotten stronger, he's a senior, he's been here four years. He's playing with more confidence."

The Flashes maintained control the rest of the way.

Junior point guard Kris Brewer contributed 12 points and three assists with no turnovers, while sophomore guard K.K. Simmons added 10 points off the bench on 8-of-8 shooting from the line.

"This is a nice win for us for sure," said Senderoff. "Western Carolina is a really good team. I'm really happy with how we played on the defensive end especially. In the first half we did a phenomenal job defensively. We couldn't get a shot to fall, but we kept after it on the defensive end, which allowed us to have a lead going into halftime. Then in the second half we got a couple things going offensively, scored some baskets in transition, and the defense continued.

"I'm proud of how our guys played tonight."

Coaches vs. Cancer Classic action continues tonight, as the Flashes will battle USC Upstate (2-2) after the 5 p.m. game between Western Carolina and Niagara (1-2).

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