KENT: Just when the Kent State basketball team was hitting its stride, the Golden Flashes suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss last Saturday to Ohio.
It wasn’t so much that the Flashes lost — KSU is tied for fourth in the East Division standings and Ohio is just one game behind the division-leading University of Akron. It was how they lost after overcoming a 15-point second-half deficit.
They threw the ball away late in regulation on a key possession then left a 3-point shooter open on defense in the final seconds of overtime on a shot that ended up winning the game.
Struggling to finish close games has been a problem for the Flashes (14-12, 5-7 Mid-American Conference) all season. That’s why coach Rob Senderoff chose to use this week away from conference play to work specifically on end-of-game situations while preparing to face the University of Loyola-Chicago today in the annual BracketBusters event.
The players had a couple of days off to help distance themselves from the frustrations of an up-and-down season.
“We gave them Sunday and Monday off and then met Tuesday to sort of address where we are and what we need to do moving forward,” Senderoff said. “We didn’t watch film like we normally would. Instead, we just went over some plays throughout the [Ohio] game that hurt us.”
The rest of the week, the Flashes spent practice time breaking down what to do in specific end-of-game scenarios.
“A four-minute game, a three-minute game, a two-minute game,” Senderoff said. “Also a one-minute game and a 40-second game. We did that each day to help our guys play through the situation. We did them when nobody had timeouts and we did them with both timeouts left. Anything to get us going through situations that we need to learn from and get better at.”
How important are the final plays of each game? The Flashes have lost six games, five in the MAC, when the score was tied or KSU held a slight lead with a minute to go.
“Had we won them all, we’d obviously be a much different team,” Senderoff said. “Had we gone .500 and won three of the six, we’d be in a much better position. But right now, we are what we are.”
A concern about playing Loyola right now is in getting the players to think the outcome is important.
“Some teams might think that at 14-12, this game is meaningless,” Senderoff said. “But for a team that’s 17-9, it has a lot of meaning. That’s the message I’m trying to get through to them — that this game can help us with the final four regular-season games of the season and that helps us in the MAC Tournament.”
Senderoff knows a win would boost the Flashes’ spirits heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, when they’ll be playing for seeding in the upcoming MAC Tournament.
“We can be anywhere between a four seed and a 10 seed,” Senderoff said. “That’s huge.”
As is today’s game against the Ramblers (14-13, 4-10 Horizon League), a team that’s struggling with its own problems. After starting the season 11-3 and defeating conference leader Valparaiso, Loyola took a big hit when injuries to key starters began to pile up.
The toughest loss was 6-foot-8 senior forward/center Ben Averkamp, who was averaging 15.3 points and 6.5 rebounds before suffering a concussion that’s forced him to miss the past five games.
“Like us, I think they’re a little bit better than their record,” Senderoff said. “But I don’t know if [Averkamp] is going to play or not. He’s a first-team all-conference player who was supposed to play Tuesday, but he didn’t. So I assume he’s going to try to play against us if he can go.”
Another Loyola player prominent on the Flashes’ scouting report is 6-foot-5 sophomore guard/forward Christian Thomas (10.9 points, 6.3 rebounds).
“He’s a lot like [KSU’s] Darren [Goodson] in that he’s undersized, but he’s a relentless rebounder and can score over bigger guys in the post and get fouled,” Senderoff said. “He’s really played well as of late.”
Whether or not Averkamp plays and Thomas is on his game, the Flashes’ main mission today is to focus on what they need to do to put themselves in a position to win, especially if it’s a close game.
“If we can bottle up what we did well for 30 minutes [against OU] and do it for 40 minutes, then we’re right where we need to be,” Senderoff said. “But we’ve got to find a way to get that done over the next two weeks.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.