For the second consecutive home game, KSU lost its energy midway through the second half, but battled back to take a Mid-American Conference co-leader to the final horn.
For the second Saturday in a row, senior guard Randal Holt had a chance to beat one of the MAC’s unbeatens.
After KSU’s Kris Brewer blocked D.J. Cooper’s shot with eight seconds left and Chris Evans rebounded, Holt drove three-quarters of the way down the court and put up a floater 5 feet in front of the basket. It failed to fall as Ohio hung on for a 69-68 victory before a crowd of 5,453 at the M.A.C. Center.
It was virtually the same finish from KSU’s 71-67 loss a week ago to the University of Akron, when Holt’s floater skimmed in and out in the final 15 seconds.
“Pretty much the same shot,” Holt said.
“With eight seconds to go, you get the ball in Randal Holt’s hands and you get to 4 or 5 feet, there’s not much more you can ask for,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “You could ask for it to go in.”
The outcome set up a nationally televised showdown Saturday at 5 p.m. at Rhodes Arena between Ohio (15-5, 6-0 in the league) and UA (15-5, 6-0), which rallied for a 68-64 home victory over Buffalo. Since the MAC went to 10 teams in 1975-76, a team has not gone undefeated in league play.
Kent State (11-9, 2-4) will try to bounce back Wednesday at Northern Illinois. The Golden Flashes failed to do that last week, getting blown out 70-55 at Bowling Green.
“It’s tough, but we’ve still got games to play, we’ve still got a season to play,” Holt said. “Nobody said it was going to be easy. We’ve got to come together and dig deeper.”
The game marked the return of former Kent State coach Jim Christian, hired by Ohio in April after the Bobcats went to the NCAA Sweet 16 last season. But few were looking at Christian after tip-off.
Kent State led at halftime, just as it did against UA. The Golden Flashes again lagged in the second half, falling behind Ohio 60-52 with 7:46 to go. But they used a 13-2 run to take a 65-62 lead with 4:07 remaining. Capping that surge was a 3-pointer and an and-one by Evans, who led KSU with 20 points, and a layup by Brewer.
What bothered Senderoff most was the Golden Flashes’ 20 turnovers, 13 in the second half. Perhaps the biggest was when Evans was called for traveling with 42.8 seconds left.
“That was a forced turnover,” Senderoff said. “But to start the second half we had like four in a row. The game’s at the end and it’s a one-point game, but there are so many possessions between that where the game gets lost.
“When you’re playing these games against real good teams, you’ve got to play hard. We did that, we did that last Saturday, but you also have to play well. Ohio turns a lot of teams over. I don’t want to make it seem like they have nothing to do with it. But in the second half we had so many unforced turnovers.”
After Evans walked, Kent State did what it had to do on the Bobcats’ next possession. Ohio led 69-68 on Cooper’s two free throws with 55 seconds to go. Ohio’s leading scorer this season, Cooper had totaled 23 points, 14 in the second half. There was no doubt where the ball was going to go.
“It’s fun playing here. I try to raise my level of intensity,” said Cooper, who chose Ohio over Kent State. “My last time playing here at Kent, I want the ball in my hands.”
But Brewer swatted away Cooper’s 3-point attempt.
“We made an unbelievable comeback, we showed tremendous toughness and heart,” Senderoff said. “But you have to play well, you have to play smart and you have to play hard. We did one of the three.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.