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By Allen Moff | Staff writer
Darren Goodson had done as much to dig the hole Kent State's men's basketball team found itself in as anyone.
The senior forward's immense struggles over the past five games had played a huge role in four losses, including three in a row overall and at home, entering Saturday's critical early season Mid-American Conference tilt with Ball State.
But just when you were ready to throw the dirt on Goodson and his Flashes, they dug themselves out.
Goodson poured in a career-high 23 points, and Kent State (10-5, 1-1 MAC) rolled up 54 second-half points to erase a 12-point deficit and claim an 86-74 victory over the Cardinals (3-10, 0-2) before a crowd of 3,764 at the M.A.C. Center.
Goodson also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench, and the Flashes' leader in turnovers did not commit a single miscue on the night.
"Coach (Rob Senderoff) put me on a three-dribble max when I got a defensive rebound," said the 6-foot-5, 245-pound forward, who had made several of his turnovers of late while trying to push the ball up the floor. "So every time I got a defensive rebound and pushed it out that clicked in my head that I was coming out (if I dribbled too much)."
Junior point guard Kris Brewer scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half, when the frigid-shooting Flashes finally caught fire by canning 64 percent of their field goals.
Fellow junior guard Derek Jackson contributed 12 points, four assists and three steals, and sophomore forward Chris Ortiz provided a huge spark off the bench with a season-high nine points and five boards in 13 minutes.
But the night belonged to Goodson.
The Cincinnati native entered Saturday's contest shooting 35 percent from the field and 29 percent from the 3-point line, but shot 9-of-12 from the floor and hit both of his 3-point attempts. He had scored a grand total of 10 points in his past two games.
"I was just trying to get lost in the game," said Goodson. "Don't worry about missing shots or whatever's going on. Stay aggressive, pick my spots and try to get my team a win. Just get lost in the game. And it seemed to work."
Goodson's teammates seemed just plain lost in the first half.
Ball State star senior forward Majok Majok is much more respected for his ability to rebound than score, but he tossed in 10 points in the first six minutes as the Cardinals raced to a 20-7 lead with 12:30 left in the first half. He averages just 11.3 points per contest, along with a MAC-high 10.8 boards.
Goodson led a 12-1 charge late in the first half that brought Kent State within one a 33-32, but Ball State closed with a Mark Alstork four-point play and a layup by Chris Bond to take a 39-32 halftime lead.
The Flashes have shot under 41 percent from the field in six straight games but hit 41 percent in first half thanks solely to Goodson, who was 5-of-6 for 12 points. The rest of the team shot 30 percent (7-of-23).
Goodson kept things rolling in the second half, and this time his fellow Flashes followed his lead.
The Cardinals scored the first five points after halftime to stretch their lead to 12 before sophomore guard Kellon Thomas halted the run with a 3-pointer.
Goodson hit a 3 and a layup off a lob from Jackson to keep his team within striking distance, but the Flashes still trailed 57-49 after the Cardinals finally managed to beat the KSU press and Majok finished with a dunk.
That's when the tide suddenly turned.
Ortiz's second consecutive three-point play brought the crowd and the Flashes to life, and triggered a 16-0 run that saved them from a potentially devastating 0-2 MAC start. A three-point play by Goodson gave the Flashes a 57-56 lead, their first since the game's opening moments, then Ortiz made a steal off the press and fed Brewer for a layup while he was fouled for another three-point play that capped the decisive 16-0 run and put Kent State up 65-57.
"That play when (Ortiz) had the steal, dove on the floor and passed it to Brewer, that was huge," said Senderoff. "He's been practicing very well, been working incredibly hard, and he's getting better. I'm proud of him."
Ball State cut the lead to 70-65 with 5:43 to go, but KSU scored the next three points and Brewer delivered the dagger with a 3 at the 2:38 mark that put the Flashes on top 80-69.
Brewer and Jackson shot 1-of-8 from the field in the first half, but made 8-of-11 shots in the final 20 minutes. They also led a menacing full-court press that wreaked havoc on Ball State all night long, forcing 18 turnovers that Kent State turned into 26 points.
"(The Cardinals) have turned the ball over a lot over the course of the season, so that was our game plan all along," said Senderoff. "We turned them over a bunch in the first half too, but we only had one steal. We wanted to make sure we were trying to pressure them in the second half and create steals, and we did that. Those live-ball turnovers became fastbreak points for us in the second half."
Ball State rookie coach James Whitford admitted that Kent State's pressure effectively wore his team down, and was also complimentary of Goodson in particular.
"He was the difference in the game tonight, no question," said Whitford. "He's really struggled for them of late, and he's a really important player for their team. For him to come back and play the way he did is a real credit to him as a senior. He played outstanding at every level."
Alstork led Ball State with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Majok finished with just 14 points and seven boards despite his fast start.
The Flashes will now hit the road for a pair of games this week, at Northern Illinois (6-7, 0-1) on Wednesday and at Buffalo (8-4, 2-0) on Saturday.
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier