KENT: The Kent State basketball team has developed a knack for excitement.
Five of the past six games for the Golden Flashes (13-11, 4-7 MAC) have gone down to the final possession, the most recent being a KSU win thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Devareaux Manley against Bowling Green on Wednesday.
If you’re playing the percentages, tonight’s game against Central Michigan (6 p.m. tip-off) could go down to the last shot.
Being in this type of nail-biting finishes time and time again is an opportunity to gain big-game experience, a major plus for a Golden Flashes starting lineup that for the past several games has included at least three sophomores.
“When you’re in so many games like that you start to understand when you’re winning, the other team’s never out of it and when you’re losing you’re never out of it, as long as you’re competing,” KSU coach Rob Senderoff said. “For us, I think some of it is we don’t have a huge margin for error. When that’s the case you have to keep battling, keep grinding and make as many winning plays as you can to put yourself in a position to win.”
These one-possession games have also come during a stretch of transition for Kent State. Against Bowling Green, four sophomores cracked the starting lineup and at least three have started for the past couple of games. And in the previous three games, Kellon Thomas, Chris Ortiz and Khaliq Spicer have all set career highs for minutes in a game.
“For the most part, they’re doing what you want sophomores to do,” Senderoff said. “They’re contributing. They’re having big games. Sometimes they’re making mistakes of guys that haven’t had a ton of minutes in their career. You’re experiencing some of the ups and downs in that.”
To make way, Kris Brewer has been relegated to a reserve role the past two games and Derek Jackson came off the bench for the first time this season on Wednesday. Brewer has continued to struggle to find his shot but Jackson responded with a 25-point effort that Senderoff called “his best game in a Kent State uniform.” And Wednesday’s hero, Manley, had started some this season before taking a reserve role.
What lineup Senderoff chooses to go with against Central Michigan (8-15, 1-10) tonight is unknown. Jackson could have earned back his starting role or he could remain in the role in which he set his career high in points. The thing Senderoff is focusing on against CMU — which beat KSU 78-73 10 days ago — is getting back to two key fundamentals and correcting mistakes. In that initial loss to the Chippewas, KSU turned the ball over 18 times and gave up 13 second-chance points.
“For us to win, we have to limit turnovers and points off of turnovers,” Senderoff said. ‘‘They killed us in points off turnovers. Absolutely killed us [22 points]. We’ve got to take care of the basketball and make sure we rebound.”
Kent State also struggled to contain Chris Fowler, one of the best in the conference when driving to the hoop, and 3-point specialist John Simons, who made six 3-pointers in their first meeting. Those two combined for 40 points.