KENT: Following a tough overtime loss to Valparaiso on Sunday, Randal Holt made the type of shot Tuesday night that can keep a young team’s season on the right track.
With KSU trailing 68-67, Holt dribbled down the clock, drove to his right, encountered two defenders, stepped back and nailed a 15-foot jumper with 1.3 seconds on the clock to beat Bethune-Cookman 69-68 as a part of the Joe Cipriano Nebraska Classic at the M.A.C. Center.
“In those types of moments, I’m always telling myself ‘I’m going to make this shot,’ ” Holt said. “The play was for me to come off a ball screen but they originally guarded it well. So I threw it back [and] had my mind made up that I was going to shoot it and make it.
“My whole career, I’ve been taking big shots. I’ve never been afraid to take big shots.”
Kent State had Sunday’s game all but won in the closing moments but let it slip away. Facing four road games in the next five, the Golden Flashes needed this game — and Holt’s shot.
“It would’ve been tough for our team had we lost again,” KSU coach Rob Senderoff said. “We got a little bit rattled there. But Randal did what Randal does, which is to take and make big shots. That’s what he’s done his whole career here.”
Holt says he isn’t afraid to take the big shot whenever called upon. That’s a good thing for Kent State, because Senderoff says he’s calling for No. 3 to shoot it whenever the time comes.
“[Last year], there were times we’d go to Justin Greene, times we’d go to Mike Porrini, times we’d go to Randal,” Senderoff said. “With this year’s team, I gotta go to Randal. I can’t allow there to be another option.
“There’s nobody you’d rather have shoot that than him, nobody that I can think of in all the time I’ve been here that I’d rather have shoot a big shot than Randal.”
Holt (13 points, two steals) almost never got the chance. Bethune-Cookman (1-3) took a 68-67 lead just inside of a minute remaining on Alex Smith’s layup. KSU freshman Chris Ortiz, who played well in his first start with 13 points and eight rebounds, was called for a moving screen.
Mark Henniger gave KSU another chance with a great play to hedge point guard Kevin Dukes (18 points) to the sideline, where he tried to turn the corner but Henniger moved his feet well enough to block him off without fouling. Dukes stepped out of bounds with 15.3 seconds remaining, giving Holt his chance.
“It was a great play by Mark, great job. Great,” Senderoff said. “Defensively, he’s our best help guy, our best ‘show’ [what KSU calls a hedge] guy on ball screens. That’s a point guard he kept in front of him.”
Ortiz shot 4-of-8 from the field, made all four of his free throws and scored four consecutive points in the closing minutes.
“What felt the best was that coach was able to believe in me and let me take those shots,” Ortiz said. “It’s a big confidence booster for me.”
Freshman Kellon Thomas also started his first game and scored six points after Kris Brewer played 41 minutes on Sunday.
Kent State’s defense stifled B-C’s leading scorer, Adrien Coleman, holding him to 10 points. But the Wildcats got hot from 3-point range and made 13-of-28 attempts (46 percent). Dukes was 6-of-11 on 3-pointers.
“We had to get them off the 3-point line, and we didn’t do a good job of that,” Senderoff said. “Some of that’s inexperience and youth of not understanding that it’s not good enough to just get a hand up.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.