By Allen Moff | Staff writer
When college basketball teams play three games in three nights during the first month of the season, that third contest can produce some bizarre results.
Saturday's Kent State-Niagara matchup on day three of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was pure craziness. An NBA game broke out on the M.A.C. Center's parquet floor, as the Golden Flashes hung on for a 102-97 victory over the pesky Purple Eagles (1-4) thanks to six straight clutch free throws in the final 20 seconds by sophomore point guard Kellon Thomas.
Senior forward Mark Henniger made every shot he took en route to a career-high 20 points, while K.K. Simmons produced nine of his career-high 18 points during a 15-2 run the Flashes used to erase a three-point deficit with 13:31 to play.
Senior point guard Kris Brewer (16 points, 3 assists), junior guard Devareaux Manley (14 points), and senior forward Darren Goodson (10 points, 6 assists) also reached double-digits for Kent State (6-1), while sophomore forward Khaliq Spicer chipped in eight points, four rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Flashes withstood another offensive onslaught by Niagara junior guard Antoine Mason, who entered the game as the nation's scoring leader at 31.3 points per game and promptly produced 31 points -- even though he needed 14:14 to get point No. 1.
Twenty-four of those markers came during the second half, when the Purple Eagles scored a whopping 54 points -- and lost the half by four.
Kent State reached the century mark for the first time since a Nov. 10, 2006 game against South Dakota.
"I think the fans should have got hot dogs," Goodson smiled.
The contest was certainly entertaining, unless you're into defense - which was virtually non-existent.
But no matter how you slice it, the Flashes will take three wins in three days, and the surprising 6-1 record those triumphs give them after a busy and highly productive start to the 2013-14 campaign.
"I don't think we played great, but we wanted to go 3-0 in the this tournament and we did," said KSU coach Rob Senderoff. "Offensively how can you complain? We shot (61) percent). We've gotta rebound and defend a little bit better. But we're now 6-1, and I'd challenge anybody who would have thought we'd be 6-1 right now. I'm happy with where we're at."
Henniger scored his 20 points on 6-of-6 shooting from the field and an 8-of-8 effort from the line. Spicer was also 3-of-3 from the floor as teammates, especially Goodson, continually set their post players up for easy baskets.
Goodson tied his career high with six assists.
"It feels better than scoring myself," said Goodson. "A lot of people on our team can score. I just want success. This is my last year, and I'm not worried about myself, I'm worried about Kent State."
The hero of heroes for the Flashes was Simmons, who scored his 18 points in just 15 minutes of action. He shot 6-of-7 from the floor and 3-of-3 from 3-point range, including a bomb with 12:44 to play that put Kent State ahead to stay at 63-61.
Simmons sat out last season after transferring from UNC Wilmington, and had played well in spurts previously this year before putting it all together on Saturday.
"I got in the zone," said Simmons. "I saw our team was kind of in a hole for a second and I just felt like that was my time to step up and be more aggressive. Sitting out last year, it takes some time to get back into it. I'm just enjoying playing, just having fun playing basketball. I was aggressive and it worked in my favor. I know what I can do. I was happy to finally get out there and show what I can do."
The Flashes seemed on the verge of running Niagara out of the gym in the first half. They jumped out to a 6-0 lead and pushed it to 20-11 after Manley drained his second 3-pointer of the game. A 3-pointer and an 18-footer by Brewer made it 31-20 before the Purple Eagles used full-court pressure to get back in the game with a 7-0 run.
Mason scored his first point on a free throw after he made a simple cut to the basket on an inbound play with 5:49 to go in the first half. He made his first basket after KSU defensive ace Derek Jackson went to the bench, trimming the KSU lead to 34-30, then started to find a bit of a groove while pushing his point total to seven. But that flurry was abruptly halted when he was forced to the bench after collecting his second foul with two minutes left in the half.
Those who believed Niagara would wilt in those final two minutes with its star on the bench thought wrong. The Purple Eagles closed the half with 3-pointers by Rayvon Myers and Marvin Jordan, then a tip-in at the buzzer by Tahjere McCall made it 44-43 at the half.
The Flashes shot a blazing 65 percent from the field and hit 5-of-10 3-pointers in the first half led by Manley, who scored 12 points on 3-of-4 shooting from long range. But they also committed eight turnovers, giving Niagara 14 points, and their bench was outscored 24-10.
Mason put his talents on display to start the second half. He scored in nearly every way imaginable during a 10-point onslaught, the final bucket giving Niagara a 61-58 lead with 13:31 to play.
That's when Simmons took over during the decisive 15-2 spurt that seemed to put the Flashes in control.
Kent State appeared to have things well in hand when a Simmons 3-pointer pushed the lead to 85-74 with 5:20 to play. Even after Niagara cut it to four, Brewer answered with a three-point play to make it 93-86 with 1:46 to go.
But the Purple Eagles would not go away. They kept bulling their way to the basket and drawing fouls down the stretch, trimming the deficit to 96-93 after a three-point play by Mason with 22.7 seconds to go. Niagara then nearly stole the inbound pass intended for Thomas, but the ball bounced out of bounds and was awarded to Kent State.
Thomas then was fouled, and sank the first two of his six clutch free throws down the stretch -- his only points of the game.
The Flashes will now receive a well-deserved three days rest before hosting Youngstown State (6-1) on Wednesday.