By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
Kris Brewer and Chris Ortiz have more in common than first names.
Both players have suffered through downright nasty shooting slumps from long range since their Kent State men's basketball team entered conference play this season, combining to shoot an abysmal 8-of-52 (15 percent) from 3-point land.
Those slumps came to an abrupt end Saturday night, when Kris & Chris combined to shoot the Golden Flashes (14-11, 5-7 Mid-American Conference) past Central Michigan (8-16, 1-11) 83-75 at the M.A.C. Center by nailing 7-of-8 attempts from behind the arc.
"Just getting in the gym," said Brewer, when asked what helped him emerge from his lengthy long-range shooting slump. "I've been in the gym, Ortiz was in the gym. We just came out letting it go and they fell in."
Brewer's struggles have been well documented. After shooting 42.4 percent from 3-point range a year ago, Kent State's junior point guard slipped to 25.3 percent this season before Saturday night. He had missed 10 in a row and 19 of his last 20 over the past five games, and was removed from the starting lineup after KSU lost in overtime at Central Michigan on Feb. 5.
But after producing just four total points in his past two games Brewer scored 14 points in Saturday's rematch, burying 4-of-5 3s.
"He came in early today and got shots up, shot before and after practice (Friday)," said KSU coach Rob Senderoff. "For the most part, he's been getting good looks, and tonight they went in."
Most Flashes fans probably didn't even know Ortiz was 0-for-9 from 3 against MAC foes before Saturday night, because the 6-foot-8 sophomore forward certainly isn't known for his long-range shooting. But Ortiz is typically one of the team's top 3-point shooters in practice.
"He makes them in practice, but he hasn't made them in games, so he's got a rule that says you have to make two baskets before you can shoot one," said Senderoff.
Ortiz obliged with a couple early baskets before burying his first 3 of 2014 in the first half. He went on to score a career-high 17 points, nailing all three of his attempts from long-range, and also grabbed six rebounds.
"I'm not really an offensive-type guy. I just (provide) energy, rebound, little things," said Ortiz. "But tonight I just took what they gave me. I'm not really a 3-point shooter, but if I'm open I'm gonna shoot it."
Brewer and Ortiz had plenty of help, as the Flashes reverted to the recipe for success that led to an 8-1 start to the 2013-14 season: Virtually everyone that played contributed.
Sophomore Kellon Thomas scored a career-high 17 points, hitting 9-of-11 free throws. Junior guard Derek Jackson, coming off a career-high 25-point effort in Wednesday's victory over Bowling Green, stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of 13 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals.
Senior forward Mark Henniger added 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field as Kent State placed five players in double figures and shot a season-high 63.3 percent from the field (31-of-49), including 9-of-19 from 3-point range.
Despite all these gaudy numbers, this win was far from routine.
The Flashes led by as many as 13 in the first half before settling for a 35-26 halftime lead, but the Chippewas erased that advantage with a 15-4 run to open the second half that put them up 41-39 with 13:55 to play and forced Senderoff to call a timeout.
"Sometimes I yell at them, but that wasn't a time to yell," said Senderoff. "I could tell we were fragile. We needed to just settle down and relax a little bit."
Ortiz and Brewer later put their teammates at ease with back-to-back 3s that pushed a five-point lead to 11 at 61-50 with 6:25 left. Kent State maintained a cushion of nine points or more until the closing seconds.
The Flashes, who have now won three in a row at home after dropping five of their previous six, will visit Miami (9-14, 5-7) on Wednesday. They are tied for fourth place/last in the East Division along with Bowling Green.
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier