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By Allen Moff | Staff writer
"Inexplicable ... out to lunch ... a complete joke."
Neither Kent State seniors Mark Henniger and Darren Goodson, nor coach Rob Senderoff, pulled any punches while describing the Senior Night slumber the Golden Flashes stumbled through on Tuesday night at the M.A.C. Center.
With a chance to lock up a first-round home game for next week's Mid-American Conference Tournament dangling in front of their noses, the Flashes went through the motions and fell behind Miami by 23 in the first half. A second-half rally kept this one from becoming an unmitigated disaster, but the 73-61 loss to the RedHawks still ranks right up there with the most disappointing efforts in Kent State men's basketball history.
"Lifeless," said Senderoff, when asked about his squad's approach to the game. "I'm not trying to put it on anybody but me, I'm the coach. I didn't have them prepared in March to play hard on Senior Night. I've been coaching for 22 years and I've never seen it before."
The loss assures Kent State (16-14, 7-10 MAC) of its first losing record in MAC play since 1996-97, Gary Waters' first season as head coach. The Flashes absorbed their second double-digit beating from a MAC foe at the M.A.C. Center (Miami, Western Michigan) in 2014.
They also let a 13-point lead slip away against Northern Illinois while going 4-5 at home in regular season league play this year.
Win or lose Friday's regular-season finale at Akron (19-11, 11-6), Kent State still may get to host a home game in the first round of the MAC Tournament on Monday -- which may or may not be a good thing.
"It seems like we've been playing better on the road. I don't know why," said Henniger, whose team was fresh off a 75-61 upset win at Ohio. "We get excited to beat other teams in their gym and play well, then we come here and I don't know what's going on."
Explanations were lacking afterward, although honesty was not.
The Flashes came out in a haze, and quickly fell behind 15-5 after committing five turnovers less than five minutes into the game. A Miami squad that entered the contest shooting 29 percent from 3-point range quickly found a rhythm both inside and out, burying 7-of-7 3-pointers in the first half behind Will Sullivan and Willie Moore (combined 5-of-5) while dominating play inside as well behind 6-foot-7 senior Will Felder.
Miami (12-16, 8-9) wound up shooting 63 percent in the opening 20 minutes, and turned 12 Kent State turnovers into 19 points while building a 45-25 halftime lead.
"The turnovers were a complete joke," said Senderoff.
"It wasn't Kent State basketball," Goodson added. "We was out to lunch."
Senderoff elaborated, but still had no clue why his Flashes came out so flat.
"We start the game with no energy and no life," said Senderoff. "I've been battling this all year with some of these guys, and it's not easily explainable. We play a great game on the road on Saturday against an excellent (Ohio) team, and we just didn't show up today. How that happens ... I'm the coach so that's on me, but it's inexplicable. I mean, it's March. Quite frankly I don't have much of an answer."
Little changed until about six minutes into the second half, when Henniger and sophomore K.K. Simmons led a 15-0 run that cut a 24-point deficit to 57-48 with 9:19 remaining.
But Sullivan hit a jumper to push the lead back to 10 with 6:40 to go, and it remained in double digits the rest of the way as the Flashes failed to connect on several looks from 3-point land down the stretch (5-of-20 for the game).
"We start off the game with no energy and no life, then in the second half we come to play for a while," said Senderoff. "We didn't play great in the second half by any means, but at least we competed."
Junior guard Devareaux Manley led Kent State with 12 points, and Simmons scored 11 off the bench. Henniger finished with 11 points and four blocks, while Goodson had seven points and six boards. Junior guard Kris Brewer, who tied a career high with 28 points in a 75-63 victory at Miami on Jan. 19, shot 1-of-6 for two points with no assists in 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, Felder had his way with Kent State inside, posting 26 points and nine boards. Sullivan (13) and Moore (14) cooled down a little in the second half, but still combined for 27 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3.
For Goodson and Henniger, what was supposed to be a night to remember wound up being one they have to try to forget.
"We just gotta let that one go, try to beat Akron and get a home game (for the MAC Tournament)," said Goodson. "That's all we can do."
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