Kent State limped to the finish line. Literally.
When it was all said and done at the M.A.C. Center in Kent, the Golden Flashes had found a way to beat Ohio 74-67 in front of 3,763 fans. The win keeps Kent State (19-8, 10-3) in a first place tie with Akron. The Zips defeated Miami in Millet on Wednesday night. Ohio falls to 14-13, 5-8 with the loss.
Kent State's Mike McKee hit the big shot down the stretch with 3:56 remaining to get the Flashes over the hump and their first lead (61-59) since the 15:42 mark of the second half.
With four of their top six players dealing with some type of physical ailment, combined with playing a dangerous, explosive Ohio team, the Golden Flashes had a tough task in front of them and it turned out to be that type of game.
Chris Singletary led KSU with 17 points (12 in the second half), 10 rebounds and five assists. Battling a sprained knee and cramps for part of the game, Singletary carried the Flashes for large stretches of the second half just like he has before this season.
“Chris finally started going to score," KSU head coach Geno Ford said. "He was in a pass mentality and playing in slow motion. The challenge for Chris is to find that balance between being a playmaker and finishing plays. He’s such a great passer and an unselfish kid. Early in the game, he just wasn’t taking the ball to the basket to finish; he was taking it to try to get it to other guys. It took him awhile to get in the flow of the game tonight, but I thought he really carried us through long stretches of the second half.”
Justin Greene added 15 points and 11 rebounds while Anthony Simpson had 15 points and seven boards.
Kent State, like most teams in the MAC this season, had a hard time guarding Ohio guards D.J. Cooper and Armon Bassett. Cooper had 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while Bassett had 20 points.
Kent State's defense locked down when it had to for the final seven minutes of the game. Ohio scored only two points from the 7:31 mark of the second half until 1:11 remaining in the game. By then KSU had rattled off a 14-2 run when it mattered most.
“We really guarded well down the stretch," Ford said. "Cooper and Bassett are probably the most skilled backcourt in the conference off the dribble. When they’re playing off the bounce, they’re going to score some points. It’s a matter of making them take tough shots. I thought in the last nine minutes we made them make tough shots.”
“They played like they had six seniors and a fifth-year junior when it was time to amp up their defense and get some stops," Ohio coach John Groce said. "That was certainly a difference-maker.”
Both Kent State and Ohio shot 36.7 percent for the game, but KSU held a 46-38 edge in rebounding. The Golden Flashes took advantage of their second opportunities with a 19-7 lead in second chance points while also posting a 20-6 advantage in points off turnovers.
“Even though shots weren’t falling, we knew we had to get stops, put everything else aside and focus on the task at hand,” said Singletary. “That’s the great thing about our team.”
Kent State will look for its 11th 20-win season in the past 12 years when the team hosts Western Carolina at 8 p.m. in an ESPNU televised BracketBuster game on Saturday, February 20th.