During Kent State’s recent losing skid, Golden Flashes players kept looking and waiting for someone, anyone, to step up make a difference at crucial points in each game.
But game after game during the rough patch in which KSU drop four of five and three consecutive, a savior never materialized. Until Saturday.
Embattled senior forward Darren Goodson did a majority of the heavy lifting and sophomore forward Chris Ortiz provided the perfectly-timed spark as the pair hauled Kent State out of its offensive slump with an 86-74 victory over Ball State.
“We needed a win, that goes without saying,” KSU coach Rob Senderoff said. "The way we played in the second half was as good as we've played maybe all year.”
After suffering eight turnovers in the first half, KSU turned the ball over just once more time in the second half. The Flashes also shot a blistering 64.3 percent in the final half as they rallied from behind a dozen points and went on to put the game away.
Goodson, whose poor play had recently relegated him to the bench, finished with a season-high 23 points. He led three players in double-figure scoring - junior point guard Kris Brewer contributed 18 points and junior guard Derek Jackson chipped in 12.
“Darren Goodson played outstanding at every level,” Cardinals coach James Whitford said of Goodson, whose three-point play with 11:17 left handed the Flashes a 59-57 lead with 11:17 to play. “He’d really struggled as of late and he’s a really important player for them. I give him credit because he made 3’s, made plays off the dribble. He hadn’t shot well from beyond the arc, but he did tonight. He was the difference in the game.”
With the Flashes (10-5, 1-1 in Mid-American Conference) trailing the feisty Cardinals (3-10, 0-2) in second half action at the M.A.C. Center, Ortiz’s hustle provided the much-needed and long-awaited lift to help continue a 25-8 run that included 16 consecutive points. Included in the early second-half spurt was a pair of aggressive baseline drives that resulted in three-point plays.
“Between coach (DeAndre) Haynes working with me and guarding Darren everyday (in practice), I had no choice but to be(come more) aggressive,” said Ortiz, who had nine points, five rebounds, and an assist, block and steal in just 13 minutes. “I’m bigger and stronger than I really think, so I need to utilize it whenever I can now.”
Added Goodson: “He’s been driving me all the time in practice and giving me all that, so I told him it was time to do it to someone else.”
The time came six and a half minutes into the second half, when Ortiz’s strong moves to the basket caught the Cardinals off guard and helped bring KSU back from behind by a dozen points.
“Chris has been practicing well and working incredibly hard in practice,” Senderoff said. “He’d been being more aggressive in practice and now he’s starting to get more confident with it in games.”
Heading into the second game of league play, the Flashes’ game plan was to limit the touches in the post of senior forward Majok Majok and try to keep him off the offensive glass.
Yet, the first half began with the 6-foot-9, 245-pounder scoring eight of Ball State’s first 10 points as 12 of his 14 points came in the first half. His early dominance forced Kent State to call a time out just five minutes into the action in an effort to draw up something differently defensively to at least try to make getting to the basket a little tougher on the big guy.
“In the second half we did a very good job of making Majok catch the ball further and further away in the paint,” Senderoff said. “When he catches the ball at two feet he is a very, very good player.”
But the Flashes quickly found they had more problems than just the load inside that Majok proved to be from the get go. Just three minutes later, they had to stop the action again as the deficit ballooned to 13 points thanks to a 10-0 Cardinals run that gave the visitors a 20-7 advantage.
Dev Manley’s 3-pointer pulled KSU to within eight points at 25-18, but Ball State reeled off a 5-0 spurt that resulted in a 30-18 advantage with 7:30 to play. Kent State switched to full court pressure that held Ball State scoreless for a four-minute stretch and rallied towithin one point with 1:32 to go before the Cardinals finished on a 6-0 run for a 39-32 halftime advantage.
Kent State hits the road next week, playing at Northern Illinois Wednesday before traveling to face host Buffalo Saturday.