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A repeated failure to close out games has forced Kent State men's basketball coach Rob Senderoff to close ranks.
The Golden Flashes are 4-3 on the year, with all three losses coming by four points or less. Making those losses more difficult to swallow is the fact that Kent State led in the second half of all three contests, only to let them all slip away in the closing minutes.
The Flashes led South Dakota 77-76 with just over a minute left in regulation, but were outscored 4-0 in the final 1:17 and lost 80-77.
They led George Mason 75-72 before getting outscored 7-0 in the final 1:13, and fell 79-75.
They built a 42-25 halftime lead at Northeastern, still led by five with under five minutes left, then were tied at 69 before being outscored 4-1 in the last 1:22 of a 73-70 setback.
Kent State did manage to hold on to a late lead against Wofford, but frittered away a 21-point first-half cushion before regrouping to win its season opener against Cleveland State in overtime.
"We've got to learn how to close out games, first and foremost. That's on both ends of the floor. Our offense has struggled, our defense has struggled, all late in games," said Senderoff. "We've got to be able to get the ball to the right spot at the right time, then make plays with confidence late in games. We're hesitant at every spot, and our execution at either end of the floor is nowhere near what it needs to be to win late in games.
"We've got to get some things straightened out. That'll be the focus moving forward."
Senderoff has nine new players on his roster, and has been giving every healthy one chances to prove himself during the first seven games. At least 11 players have taken the floor in every game this season.
That's likely not going to be the case any longer according to Senderoff.
"I'm done evaluating. You'll see differences (in the rotation) moving forward, certainly for the short term," he said. "Some of (the adjustments) are 100 percent going to be with who I play and how much I play these guys. The other is just making sure we play better late in games."
Senderoff chose not to elaborate on which players may or may not be in the new rotation.
"You'll see how things go Friday night," he said.
The Flashes will open a four-game homestand by hosting a dangerous Grambling State squad tonight. The Tigers averaged 102 points over a three-game stretch against lower-level competition before taking Miami of Ohio to overtime on Wednesday, falling 78-76 in Oxford.
"They're a much-improved team from last year, a team that has some really good offensive players," said Senderoff. "They have a frontcourt kid (6-foot-7 junior Averyl Ugba) who is averaging a double-double, and two wings (6-4 seniors Ervin Mitchell and Remond Brown) that are really good shooters and scorers. We're going to have to do a good job defensively."
Kent State has been solid at times on both ends of the floor this season. Senior forward Jimmy Hall has been the anchor everyone expected, but the players around him have all struggled through their ups and downs.
"You go across the board, each guy outside of Jimmy is in a completely different role than they were in last year. That's not an excuse, it's a fact," said Senderoff. "Still, we've got to play better, got to figure some things out here. That's what practice is for. We've shown flashes of what we can be. Now we've got to figure some things out so we can win these close games."
Four consecutive home affairs will provide the Flashes a chance to get things ironed out before they close the non-conference season with battles at Power Five foes Oregon State and Texas.
"These are four important games for us. Each game is going to be difficult for its own reasons," said Senderoff. "We need to try to find a way to play better in the month of December than we did in the month of November. We were really close in a lot of games in November, but we've got to find a way to close games out in the month of December for sure."
Here's more on tonight's matchup:
Grambling State (3-5) vs. Kent State (4-3)
When/Where: Tonight, 7 p.m./M.A.C. Center.
Radio: WHLO 640 AM.
Head Coaches: Shawn Walker, Grambling State (12-56, 3rd season); Rob Senderoff, Kent State (104-70, 6th season).
2014-15 Records: Grambling State 7-24; Kent State 19-13.
Series: First meeting.
Tigers To Watch: Ervin Mitchell, 6-4 senior guard (16.5 points, 4.5 rebounds); Averyl Ugba, 6-7 junior forward (12.5 points, 10.9 rebounds); Remond Brown, 6-4 senior guard (14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds).
Flashes To Watch: Jimmy Hall, 6-8 senior forward (19.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 54 percent field goals); Deon Edwin, 6-3 senior wing (12.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2 assists, 2.1 steals); Jaylin Walker, 6-1 sophomore guard (11.5 points, team-high 13 3-pointers).