Just when you thought the Kent State men's basketball team's offensive effort couldn't get any uglier, it did.
With just under seven minutes to play in Wednesday night's league opener, the Golden Flashes found themselves tied 46-46 with defending Mid-American Conference regular-season champion Ohio even though they were shooting a paltry 30 percent from the field.
They proceeded to miss their next nine shots and commit a pair of costly turnovers down the stretch, while the Bobcats (11-3, 1-0 MAC) reeled off seven straight points and went on to claim a 59-53 victory over the Flashes (9-5, 0-1) before 4,143 fans at the M.A.C. Center -- where the home team has now lost three straight.
Kent State wound up shooting 28 percent from the field, hitting just 17-of-60 attempts overall and 4-of-22 from 3-point range. Starting guards Derek Jackson (1-for-9), Kris Brewer (2-for-13) and Devareaux Manley (2-for-10) combined to clank 27 of their 32 field-goal attempts.
Considering those numbers, the fact that the Flashes even had a chance to win is a minor miracle.
"Obviously we didn't shoot the ball very well and we struggled to finish," said KSU coach Rob Senderoff. "I'm sure Ohio had a lot to do with that. They played with great toughness. We missed some shots we expect our guys to make. But when they hold you to 28 percent you can't take the blame completely, you've gotta give them some credit."
The offensive troubles spanned almost the entire 40 minutes for the Flashes, and included repeated misses from both inside and out.
"They're a really good offensive team, and they had some point-blank shots that they missed," said Ohio coach Jim Christian, a former KSU mentor, who is now 3-0 against his former team and former assistant coach/still best friend Senderoff. "I know how good they are, and I don't think we played as well as we can play either, but that's just the grind of Mid-American Conference play and both teams so excited to play (the opener). I feel really fortunate we gave ourselves a chance to win."
This one was there for the taking for either team throughout, as both squads struggled to put the ball in the basket.
With 7:54 left in the first half, the game could not have been more even. Both teams had made a meager 5-of-17 field goals and committed three turnovers, and the score was tied at 13. But the rest of the half belonged to the Bobcats.
Ohio senior guard and leading scorer Nick Kellogg (14.7 ppg) hit a 3-pointer to put Ohio up 16-15 and wound up scoring seven points down the stretch in the opening half. Meanwhile, the Flashes managed just four points in the final 7:28 of the half, as starting forwards Chris Ortiz and Mark Henniger were both forced to the bench with two fouls.
Kellogg didn't score until the 7:08 mark of the first half, but wound up with a game-high 19 points.
The Bobcats shot just 11-of-31 from the field for 35.5 percent in the first half, but led by seven because Kent State was even worse -- 8-of-30 for 27 percent. The Flashes made 2-of-12 3-pointers and only attempted two free throws, hitting one.
Senderoff's troops made it a point to take the ball to the basket early in the second half, and it paid off. Kent State marched to the free-throw line 10 times in the first 8:08 of the second half and made eight of them while erasing the seven-point halftime deficit, and actually took a brief four-point lead at 42-38 with 10:43 following a Manley 3-pointer.
But Kellogg responded with a jumper to tie it at 42. Then reserve senior guard Travis Wilkins -- who entered the contest shooting 27 percent from long range -- hit a pair of 3-pointers, the second of which broke a 46-46 tie and put Ohio ahead to stay.
"We're up four with 10:40 to go and we allowed them to take the lead," said Senderoff. "We allowed them to make the plays that you need to make to win. That's what we're missing right now."
After Jackson and Brewer each missed layups, Manley and senior forward Darren Goodson committed turnovers while the Bobcats closed out a 7-0 run that pushed their lead to 53-47. Repeated drives by Brewer, attempting to score and/or draw contact, were continually thwarted and the Flashes could not get the deficit under four the rest of the way.
"Really it was just finishing," said Manley. "We can't make excuses, put it on the refs. We practice strong finishes every day."
Manley led the Flashes with 13 points, thanks to 7-of-9 shooting from the line. Henniger added 12 points and seven boards despite playing just 20 minutes due to foul trouble, while Brewer added six points, seven assists and six rebounds.
Goodson had another fitful night for the most part, finishing with four points (1-of-5 FGs), five rebounds and three assists off the bench while committing four of KSU's 12 turnovers.
"We need somebody to step up," said Senderoff. "Kris Brewer tried to drive the basketball and make some plays, he just didn't finish very well. But he was in attack mode. I've gotta give Ohio credit for making the toughness plays that you have to make to win these games. Right now we're struggling to make them, for whatever reason. I don't think I can pinpoint it because in each game it's a different reason why we're struggling to finish."
The Flashes, who have now lost four of their last five after opening the season 8-1, host Ball State (3-9, 0-1) Saturday night at 7 p.m.
• Beverly J. Warren, who was named President of Kent State University Wednesday morning, was introduced to the crowd during a first-half break.
• Former Ohio State star and current CBS lead college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg, Nick's father, watched the game from the Bobcats' cheering section behind their bench. Kent State football coach Paul Haynes, a former Ohio State assistant, chatted with him in the top row during the first half.
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier