The Kent State men's basketball team could not overcome close to a five minute drought to start the second half and an 18-7 run by Illinois to fall to the Illini, 75-58 on Monday night in Champaign, Ill in a second round National Invitation Tournament game.
Kent State shot just 30-percent (9 for 30) in the second half while allowing Illinois to shoot 58-percent in the second half to energize themselves and over 10,000 orange dressed fans at Assembly Hall.
“We gave up 44 points in the second half,” said Justin Greene. “That’s not Kent State defense, and that pretty much cost us the game.”
''We stopped playing defense in the second half,'' said Anthony Simpson. ''We just didn't have any energy. We came out flat. We killed ourselves.''
Greene led KSU with 15 points on 5-7 shooting, while Simpson had 14 points.
Kent State played well enough to be tied at 31 going into halftime. Simpson led the charge with 11 points, including two three pointers.
But Kent State followers knew it could have been more. Kent State squandered a chance to be up eight to 10 points with 3-9 free throw shooting and missing at least four layups right at the rim.
Nothing typified the first half more than the closing minute.
Chris Singletary missed a layup off a post up and that led to a basket and free throw the other way by Illinois' Demetri McCamey. It was a five point swing and the game was tied.
“Instead of up five with a chance to set up our defense, we give up the three points and it’s tied at the half,” said KSU coach Geno Ford. “We had several other chances to build a bigger lead and just couldn’t get it done.
“When you have a chance to be up eight or 10 points against a team like Illinois, you have to do it because you know they are going to make a run. When we couldn’t do it, that led to our second-half meltdown.”
Singletary was in foul trouble again in the opening minutes that made him ineffective especially on defense for the rest of the way has KSU tried to hide him in a 2-3 zone for much of the first half. Singletary fouled out at the 4:48 mark of the second half with 9 points on 3-9 shooting along with five assists and four rebounds. He ends his career as the only player in KSU history with over 1,200 points, 450 rebounds, 300 assists and 150 steals. He ranks 12th all time in points, 10th in assists and third in steals in program history.
“When Chris goes good, we are really good,” said Ford. “When Chris goes OK, we are just OK, and when Chris is bad, we are in trouble. Chris had a hard time finishing at the rim. Sometimes that happens when you are playing Big Ten guys who are 7-0 and 6-10. In our league it is a little different. Guys are 6-7 or 6-6 and you can go up through them. I feel bad for Chris. I feel bad for all our kids. They were in the locker room crying after the game, because they wanted to play well.”
Mike Davis led Illinois with 16 points and 16 rebounds, for his 15th double-double of the season while smooth shooting 7-footer Mike Tisdale had 17, including 13 in the second half. Illinois will host Dayton on Wednesday night on ESPN2.
Illinois enjoyed a 40-20 advantage of points in the paint. Kent State ended the night 21-54 from the field for 39-percent while Illinois finished 32-66 for 48-percent.
For Kent State it ends the fun ride of six seniors, including Singletary, Simpson, Mike McKee, Brandon Parks, Tyree Evans and Frank Henry-Ala.
The group was part of a team that won 24 games, the fourth best single season total in school history and also won its first post-season game in eight years.
EXPERIENCE FOR THE FUTURE - While Kent State loses those six important seniors, the cupboard isn't exactly empty with Rod Sherman, Justin Greene and Randal Holt all returning. This season's NIT success could prove valuable in the future.
"It's good for us to have some experience for next year," Greene said. "We have a lot of new guys coming in so for us to get this experience, it'll be good for us to pass on to the new guys for next year."
"I felt like our seniors set a good example for us," Holt said. "It was a great experience getting to the post-season and having some success so we know next year how to bring the new guys into this."
GAINES WATCHES ON - Kent State recruit Eric Gaines was in the crowd to watch the game, fresh off leading Hillcrest High School to its first Illinois 3A state championship on Saturday afternoon. Former Akron assistant John Pigatti offered up this scouting report of Gaines.
“Gaines is long and athletic and defends his tail off,” Pigatti told the Record Courier. “He is unbelievable. If he can get that jump shot going, he will be a steal in the MAC. He is a high-major right now. After Kent signed him, LSU and some others came in on him trying to get him.”
THAT'S PEACHY - Kent State falls to 6-39 all time against the Big Ten. Their last win against a Big Ten opponent came in the 2001 NCAA tournament when they defeated Indiana in San Diego, California.
“We haven’t beaten a Big Ten team in the road since 1970,’’ Ford said. “They might have had peach baskets back then. The crowd gave them a lift, then Mike Davis gave them a bigger lift.’’ Kent State won at Purdue on December 15, 1970 by a 64-62 score for their last win on the road against a Big Ten team.