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By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
Mid-American Conference foes have been waiting a decade and a half to give the Kent State men's basketball team a swift kick when it's down.
Well, the dog days have finally arrived.
After winning at least 19 games for 15 consecutive seasons, the Golden Flashes are struggling mightily in 2013-14. Losses have piled up following an 8-1 start, and they're getting uglier and uglier -- especially at home.
After absorbing its most lopsided home loss in nearly 16 years last week, Kent State blew a 14-point second-half lead to lowly Northern Illinois and fell 50-49 Wednesday night at the M.A.C. Center.
Sophomore guard Travon Baker hit a pair of free throws with 5.2 seconds left, and a wild runner by KSU junior point guard Kris Brewer fell way short as the buzzer sounded and the Huskies (8-11, 2-5 MAC) celebrated their first win in Kent since 2003.
The Flashes (11-9, 2-5) have now lost five of their last six games at the M.A.C. Center, where they've won 83 percent of their battles since the 1998-99 season. They've dropped seven of their last nine overall, and are all alone in last place in the MAC East Division -- with mighty Akron (14-6, 6-1) coming to town on Saturday.
"It feels like deja vu," said a visibly dejected third-year KSU coach Rob Senderoff. "We didn't play the way we needed to play. Tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough. Gotta play better."
Despite scoring just two points during a stretch of well over 10 minutes late in the second half, the Flashes still led 49-48 after junior guard Devareaux Manley drew a foul and hit both free throws with 11.2 seconds to play.
But Baker (11 points) took Brewer off the dribble, went up strong with his right hand and drew a foul. He then converted what proved to be the game-winning free throws.
"After playing so poorly, we still needed one stop late and didn't get it," said Senderoff. "With all that, we have the lead and we foul at the end. Tough, tough, tough."
On the next play, Brewer caught the inbounds pass awkwardly almost the length of the floor from the basket, and never got the head of steam he needed to get off a close-range shot in the final five seconds.
"There's five seconds to go, they came out in a zone," said Senderoff. "We were trying to run a play to get Kris Brewer (the ball on) the dribble. He's the fastest guy in America, and he didn't even drive it fast."
Brewer's night pretty much summed things up for Kent State. After scoring 25 points in the Flashes' come-from-behind overtime win at Northern Illinois on Jan. 15, Brewer went 0-for-7 from the field and 0-for-4 from 3-point range for two points with three turnovers in Wednesday's rematch.
"He was out of it all night, and I don't know why," said Senderoff. "He had 25 against them the last time we played them, tonight he had two. We play against Toledo (on Sunday) and he's arguably the best player on the floor, then tonight he really struggled.
"I'm not trying to throw him under the bus, because it's not just him. It's the total team," Senderoff said.
As a team, the Flashes have been clanking away at an incredible clip from the field in conference games at the M.A.C. Center. They shot 35 percent from the field against the Huskies, and now have failed to crack 42 percent in seven of eight halves played at home against MAC teams.
That would explain their dismal 1-3 home record against league foes.
Meanwhile, the Huskies won despite shooting 34 percent from the field overall and 29 percent in the second half -- when they still managed to outscore Kent State 29-21.
And the Flashes actually got off to a hot start in that second half.
A 3-pointer by junior guard Derek Jackson at the buzzer gave Kent State a 28-21 halftime lead, which was quickly pushed to 40-26 after a layup by sophomore guard Kellon Thomas. After a 3-pointer by sophomore guard K.K. Simmons, the Flashes had made five of their first seven shots of the second half and led 43-30 with 12:28 to play.
Then suddenly -- and inexplicably -- things completely fell apart.
From the 12:28 to the 2:03 mark, the Flashes scored two points. They shot 1-for-11 from the field during that stretch while committing six turnovers as the Huskies slowly crawled back into the game -- even while struggling offensively themselves.
"From (the 12:28 mark) on we stopped playing, and I don't have an answer for it," said Senderoff.
Northern Illinois took the lead at 46-45 on a layup by Darrell Bowie, but Kent State snatched it back momentarily when senior forward Darren Goodson fed senior forward Mark Henniger (8 points, 6 rebounds) for a dunk with 2:03 to play. NIU's Aksel Bolin (game-high 14 points) and Manley exchanged free throws in the final 30 seconds, setting up Baker's game-winning charity tosses.
The Flashes wound up missing 12 of their last 14 field-goal attempts. Their guards -- Brewer, Thomas, Jackson, Simmons and Manley -- misfired on their first 10 shots and combined to shoot 5-of-28 from the floor.
Goodson was the only KSU player in double figures with 10 points, but he missed three times and committed a pair of turnovers down the stretch.
"He's trying to help us win, and just struggled tonight," said Senderoff. "He along with everybody else."
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