Kent State saw its six-game winning streak snapped in the final game of its seven-game home stand at the M.A.C. Center, as a heavy early schedule of 10 games in less than a month appeared to have caught up with sluggish Golden Flashes in a 66-59 loss to Bucknell.
The teams traded runs throughout the game but Kent State (8-2), which looked out of sync all game, didn’t have a final offensive spurt left when it needed it most – down by four points with four minutes to go.
“We just had a lot of guys not play well – all on the same night,” KSU coach Rob Senderoff said. “…This (17-day) break is needed for us to get reenergized and refocused.”
After holding a slight 31-29 lead at halftime, the Flashes used a 12-5 run early in the second half capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by guards Dev Manley and Kellon Thomas to build a seven-point advantage with 16:34 to go.
But KSU’s offense went cold, allowing the Bisons to take their turn at a run. Bucknell (4-4) had a big one in store, reeling off a 15-0 spurt that flipped the seven-point deficit into an eight-point lead at 53-45 with just under nine minutes left.
“They’d go on a run, we’d go on a run,” said Flashes senior forward Darren Goodson, who had a team-high 18 points. “We just didn’t play right the whole game and they executed at the end, ran their offense and stayed together. We didn’t.”
However, it wasn’t all bad when Goodson took charge to halt the visitor’s momemtum with a 6-0 run all by himself. He split a pair of free throws, turned a rebound into a layup and then made a 3-pointer to pull Kent State to within two points after a near seven-minute scoring drought.
With the score tied 53-all, Cameron Ayers nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Bison a 59-55 lead with four minutes left. Limited to two first-half points, the son of former Ohio State coach Randy Ayers finished with 12 points.
“(Ayers) didn’t have a good game for most of the night but he just stuck with it and didn’t force things,” Senderoff said. “Then when they needed him to make a couple shots, he hit the big 3’s.”
The Flashes had no answer down the stretch, despite Bucknell missing a pair of free throws and turning the ball over on two late possessions with 44 seconds left to open the door for a possible KSU comeback.
Instead of the team-oriented multiple pass offense KSU showed during its winning streak, the Flashes shot 3-of-10 - including attempting four mostly ill-advised 3-point shots – over the last four minutes.
“I thought we tried to do too much of what I call ‘hero ball’,’’ Senderoff said. “It’s where guys go, ‘I gave up a basket so I’ve got to get it back myself’ or we settled for shots early in the shot clock. To Bucknell’s credit, they stuck with what they were doing and were able to grind it out.”
With time running out, junior point guard Kris Brewer (11 points, three assists) threw a hard and high pass through the hands of Goodson on the Flashes next possession and the Bison put the game out of reach for good on a Chris Hass basket and two final free throws by Ayers with 16.9 seconds left.
“Like coach said, a lot of guys were out there trying to play hero ball out there, myself in particular, instead of trying to make a play for a teammate,” Goodson said. “And that isn’t the way we play. The way we play is drive, drive, kick to the open man. And we didn’t do that tonight.”
As bummed as both Goodson and Brewer were during post game interviews after suffering just their second loss of the season (the first came via a two-point deficit at Seton Hall), it’s worth noting the night was not a total diaster.
Despite shooting a season-worst 37.1 percent from the field and making a season-low eight free throw attempts, the Flashes had possession of the ball trailing by only four points with 41 left.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Goodson said. “We’ve got a long break to regroup and get back to playing the way we know how to before we go play at the College of Charleston (on Dec. 21st).”