KENT: Another strong team effort Wednesday night allowed Kent State to overcome a second consecutive opponent featuring a 30-point plus scorer, as the Golden Flashes edged Youngstown State 83-79 at the M.A.C. Center.
Senior forward Kamren Belin led the Penguins (6-2) with a career-high 32 points, including 25 coming in the second half. After scoring just seven first half points, Belin came out of the locker room at halftime with the hot hand, scoring 19 of the Penguins next 26 points.
“I just wanted to focus and play with a lot of energy to try to get our team back in the game,” said Belin, who padded his point total with four 3-pointers and by going 14-for-15 at the free-throw line in addition to pulling down seven rebounds and recording three steals, two blocks and an assist in 31 minutes. “I just have to be more consistent, especially in the first half.”
But even with Belin’s game-high performance capped by a 3-pointer with 47 seconds to go that made it a one-possession game, it wasn’t enough to overcome KSU’s well-balanced attack that resulted in five players scoring in double figures.
Junior guard Derek Jackson led the way with 15 points, followed by junior point guard Kris Brewer (14), sophomore guard K.K. Simmons (12 points off the bench), senior forward Mark Henniger (11) and senior forward Darren Goodson (10), as the Flashes improved to 7-1 on the young season.
Both teams got off to slow starts offensively, with the score was tied at just 12-12 with just under 12 minutes to go in the opening half.
Kent State’s lack of hustle out of the gate became obvious two minutes later when Belin missed a 3-point attempt, but quickly darted into the lane and followed it up with a basket on his own put back to give YSU a 17-14 lead with 10:37 to go in the half.
The score see-sawed back and forth until the final 3:33 of the first half when the Flashes began to hit consistently from 3-point range. Three-pointers by Jackson, Dev Manley and Brewer allowed Kent State to begin pulling away.
With YSU running clock in an attempt to get a final bucket before halftime, a series of steals each way ended with Goodson’s lay in at the buzzer handing KSU a 12-point lead at halftime.
Jackson led all scorers with nine points in the first half while Brewer and Manley each chipped in eight for the Flashes, who held a 42-30 advantage at halftime.
But Youngstown State opened the second half on a 6-0 run as Kent State missed its first four shots. The Penguins quick start trimmed the Flashes 12-point halftime lead in half just two minutes into the half.
Youngstown State went on to erase the deficit completely by extending its run to 14-2, tying the game 44-all at the 15:36 mark.
“That’s one of the things we’ve been stressing is we’ve been coming out kind of sluggish in the first four minutes of the game and the first four minutes of the second half,” Jackson said. “We have to come out more aggressive. But we always stay together.”
Just as quickly as the Penguins pulled even, Simmons hit back-to-back 3’s for the Flashes and scored eight of his team’s next 10 points. With a 10-5 run, KSU had built a six-point advantage.
For Simmons, who sat out last season under NCAA rules after transferring from UNC Wilmington, Wednesday marked the second consecutive game in which he contributed double figures off the bench after scoring 18 points in the Flashes victory over Niagara Saturday.
“K.K. was great off the bench again,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said.
Youngstown State steadily chipped away at the lead, using back-to-back 3-pointers to pull within one point, 65-64 with 8:13 to go.
But the Flashes began to distance themselves for good with the advantage of a 10-3 run beginning at the 6:18 mark, opening a nine-point lead with just over three minutes to go before sealing the victory at the free-throw line.
“I wish we would have closed out the game a little better and wish we would have started the second half better,” Senderoff said. “But I want to make sure I give (YSU) credit because they came out after halftime and played very, very well early on and they didn’t turn the ball over in the second half. I think that allowed them to stay in the game.”