By Allen Moff | Staff writer
When strengths become weaknesses, you're in big trouble.
Defense and free-throw shooting are two crucial elements to the game of basketball that Kent State typically hangs its hat on, especially when playing at home. But that certainly wasn't the case in Saturday's 78-70 loss to neighborhood rival Cleveland State before 4,553 fans at the M.A.C. Center.
The Golden Flashes (9-3) made just 19-of-29 charity tosses, and worse yet allowed the Vikings (8-6) to shoot 61 percent from the field in the second half while suffering their second consecutive loss at home after opening the season with seven straight wins in Kent.
"We've gotta play defense for 40 minutes," said KSU junior guard Derek Jackson, who scored a game-high 18 points and harassed CSU leading scorer Bryn Forbes all night on the defensive end as well. "I think they got a lot of wide open shots, a lot of layups, a lot of offensive rebounds. We didn't get any 50-50 balls. People had their head down too much tonight, when we should have just kept fighting like we normally do.
"We just weren't playing Kent State basketball tonight."
Statistically, Cleveland State won the game thanks to superior marksmanship.
The Vikings made 7-of-14 3-pointers compared to the Flashes' 7-of-27 effort, and hit 21-of-24 charity tosses while KSU was 19-of-29.
Jackson himself made just six of his 11 free throws.
"He made 49 in a row yesterday at practice," said Senderoff. "I have no explanation."
Still, those numbers don't tell the entire story according to Senderoff.
"I agree if we make our free throws it's a different game. But when you allow someone to shoot 61 percent in a half it's gonna be tough to win," said Senderoff. "Overall our effort wasn't where it needs to be, especially on the defensive end, for us to win games. In the second half in particular we were really, really bad defensively."
Vikings coach Gary Waters, who ignited Kent State's basketball rise while leading the program from 1996-2001, was thrilled to see his team do all the things it needed to do to win in a tough environment.
"We've played probably 75 percent of our games on the road and we've had some real doozies," said Waters, whose squad improved to 2-5 on the road this year. "I thought our kids came in with the right mindset tonight. It was a hard-fought game - Kent State's gonna be good this year. For our guys to come on their court and do what we did was very good. All the things that we wanted to do I thought we accomplished. I thought our guys did a great job."
Cleveland State made four of its first five 3-pointers while grabbing an early 18-12 lead, but Kent State closed the half with a 7-0 run to go up 28-27 before Forbes nailed a 3 at the buzzer to give the Vikings a 30-28 edge at intermission.
Forbes entered the game averaging nearly 18 points, but was held to 14 on 4-of-10 shooting from the floor while shadowed by KSU stopper Jackson (3 steals). But four teammates joined Forbes in double figures -- starters Anton Grady (12 points), Trey Lewis (12), and Marlin Mason (10) along with sub Sebastian Douglas, who scored 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field and also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds to help Cleveland State win the bench scoring battle 28-15.
"Derek's a great defensive player, and he did a good job again tonight. But we allowed too many other guys to get going," said Senderoff. "Trey Lewis made some big plays when they needed them, Anton Grady did whatever he wanted, and every play Sebastian Douglas made seemed like a big one. Everybody who came in for them made the plays that they needed to."
The game see-sawed back and forth early in the second half. Cleveland State pushed out to a 48-42 lead, but Kent State erased that quickly with an 8-2 run. Two free throws by Henniger tied the game at 50-50 with 10:17 to play.
With the second free throw Henniger broke former Kent State star Trevor Huffman's school record for consecutive free throws set in 2001 with his 40th in a row. Henniger added another before the streak was halted at 41.
Two free throws by Marlin Mason wound up putting the Vikings ahead to stay, up 52-50 with 9:38 to play. Cleveland State methodically pushed the lead to seven before a putback by K.K. Simmons brought the Flashes within 58-54 at the seven-minute mark.
That's when the Vikings took control for good, reeling off six straight points to go up 64-54 following a putback by Devon Long.
The Flashes turned up the defensive pressure down the stretch and made the Vikings sweat. A steal and dunk by Jackson cut the lead to 66-61, then a stop and two free throws by Simmons made it 66-63 with just over three minutes left.
That's when Lewis buried the shot of the night, a contested step-back 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down that put Cleveland State up 69-63 with 2:39 to go.
"That was deflating," Jackson admitted. "I think that was better offense. Our guy was there, he just made a tough shot."
Kent State missed its next six shots, many of which were forced, and the Vikings hit 8-of-8 free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
Henniger finished with 14 points and a game-high eight rebounds, six on the offensive glass, while senior forward Darren Goodson scored 14 points but shot 5-of-16 from the floor.
The road team has now won four straight in the KSU-CSU series, an odd stat considering the Flashes are 199-36 at home over the past 15 years. But it was an odd night overall for Kent State, which has now dropped two of three after opening the season 8-1.
"Tip your hat to them. Cleveland State played well tonight," said Senderoff. "They played better than us."
The Flashes will close the non-conference season on Tuesday, when they visit Princeton (9-2) before opening the Mid-American Conference season Jan. 8 at home against Ohio (8-3).
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier