The most frustrating Kent State men's basketball season in well over a decade came to a sudden close Monday night.
Miami senior guard Quentin Rollins made a pair of tough shots in the final two minutes, helping his team hold off a late charge by the Golden Flashes and capture a 71-64 victory in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament at Millett Hall in Oxford.
The No. 8 seed RedHawks (13-17) advance to meet No. 5 seed Ohio on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, while the Golden Flashes' roller-coaster season ends with an even 16-16 record -- and without a trip to Cleveland for the first time since the MAC tourney moved to the city in 2000.
Despite starting the season 8-1, Kent State finished with its lowest victory total since former coach Gary Waters led KSU to a 13-17 mark in 1997-98, his second season at the helm. The Flashes won just seven MAC games, their fewest since Waters' rookie season in 1996-97, and failed to reach 20 wins for only the second time in the past 16 years.
"This season was difficult for our staff, our players, and I'm sure for the fans," said Kent State third-year head coach Rob Senderoff. "I will do everything in my power to make sure we don't have a season like this again. We are not that far away, but we are not where we need to be with mental or physical toughness."
Free throws proved to be the difference against the RedHawks, which is certainly nothing new for the Flashes. For the 17th consecutive game, Kent State shot less free throws than its opponent, and most of the time the totals were incredibly lopsided -- just like they were on Monday night.
Miami hit 24-of-31 free throws, while Kent State was just 14-of-17 from the stripe -- a 10-point difference in a game that wasn't decided until the final minute.
"We have to be physically stronger," said Senderoff. "We go to the free-throw line every game (less than our opponent) and give away 10 or (more) points like this every night."
Junior guard Kris Brewer led the Flashes with 15 points, but shot just 4-of-13 from the field and 1-of-5 from 3-point range. He also committed four turnovers and did not have an assist.
Seniors Mark Henniger and Darren Goodson put up respectable numbers in their final games at Kent State. Henniger finished with eight points, five rebounds and three blocks, while Goodson scored 10 points in only 14 minutes.
The Flashes managed to hold Miami star senior forward Will Felder (49 points in 2 earlier games against KSU) to just 10 points and five rebounds. Willie Moore stepped up for Miami, scoring 13 of his game-high 17 points in the second half, while Rollins and Will Sullivan added 13 points each.
The teams repeatedly traded runs in the first half, which ended with Miami up 33-31 after a banked-in 3-pointer by Brewer at the buzzer was waved off following a review by the officials.
The RedHawks press sparked an 8-0 run early in the second half that put the hosts in control. Moore scored all the points, hitting a pair of 3s and a layup that put Miami on top 43-33.
Kent State trailed by 13 before junior sharp-shooter Devareaux Manley hit a pair of 3s to get his team back in it, cutting the gap to 57-50 with 7:15 to play. The Flashes trimmed the deficit to two point three times, and twice had chances to tie or take the lead but 3-pointers by Brewer and Manley missed the mark.
Rollins hit a tough layup with the shot clock winding down to give Miami a 63-59 edge with under two minutes remaining, then hit a floater in the lane to put his team up 67-62 with 32.6 seconds left that effectively put the game away.
Miami held Kent State without a field goal in the final 4:10 to claim the victory and the season series, as both teams had earned road wins during the regular season.