The relatively inexperienced Kent State men’s basketball team spent a majority of Wednesday’s game at Buffalo dogged by foul trouble, eventually losing the services of four forwards in the second half.
But the combination of senior leadership by guards Randal Holt and Chris Evans, gutsy play by a handful of young reserves who stepped in at crunch time and a masterful job of orchestrating a merry-go-round of substitutions by coach Rob Senderoff resulted in an 80-68 victory for KSU.
The win snapped a four-year losing streak at the Bulls’ Alumni Arena. The struggling Bulls (5-12, 0-3 Mid-American Conference) have lost twice at home in MAC play.
With the score tied 66-66 with 5:40 remaining, sophomore reserve guard Devareaux Manley scored five consecutive points for the Flashes as part of a 6-0 spurt that resulted in a final 14-2 run to close out what had otherwise been a close game.
“We have a lot of young guys on our team, but we have some good leaders, too,” said Holt, who continued to break out of his shooting slump with a team-high 27 points that included 5-for-5 from 3-point range and 8-for-8 from the foul line.
“On the road this year, we’ve been really good at coming together and showed it again tonight.”
The Bulls took their first lead of the game, 57-56 halfway through the second half as the Flashes (11-6, 2-1) began to struggle on offense with so many players saddled with foul trouble.
Just before Buffalo took the lead, Kent State lost junior forward Melvin Tabb when he picked up his final two fouls within seconds of each other. A minute later, junior Bryson Pope made his way to the bench for the last time after picking up his fifth foul.
A few minutes before the final buzzer sounded, the Flashes also lost junior forwards Darren Goodson and Mark Henniger, leaving Senderoff no choice but to have to move freshman forward Chris Ortiz over to center in just his second game back from injury.
“We almost had to put in a couple managers tonight,” joked assistant coach Bobby Steinburg during the post-game radio interview.
“Seriously though, we had to throw a lot of the young kids right into the fire and it’s impressive how they handled themselves.”
In the first half, Holt got the Flashes off to a quick start with two 3-point baskets that aided an 11-7 start. An Evans tomahawk dunk in transition at the 12:46 mark stretched KSU’s advantage to 21-11. Evans finished with 25 points.
But junior forward Javon McCrea was a one-man wrecking crew for the Bulls, scoring 13 of his team’s first 18 points to spark an 8-0 run that cut the KSU lead to 22-20 with 9:20 remaining in the first half. McCrea finished with a game-high 33 points.
Buffalo pulled even at 23-23, but an Evans 3-pointer put the Flashes back ahead and they took a 40-36 lead at halftime. The Bulls stayed close in the opening half with the aid of shooting 19-of-20 at the free-throw line.