KENT: Perhaps it was only fitting that “The Streak” ended against the last Mid-American Conference West Division team to beat Kent State.
Toledo snapped the Flashes’ 31-game winning streak against the MAC West on Wednesday night with a 70-58 victory at a half-empty M.A.C. Center.
Kent State hadn’t suffered a defeat at the hands of a West Division opponent since the Rockets escaped with a three-point victory in Toledo — way back in 2008. That was so long ago, then-KSU coach Jim Christian is now already on his second go-around in the league at the helm of Ohio after a failed stint at TCU.
To make matters worse, Kent State (9-6 overall, 0-1 MAC) hadn’t lost to Toledo (5-7, 1-0) at home since the 1999-2000 season before Wednesday’s debacle spoiled not only the Flashes’ 2012-13 conference opener but also halted an overall four-game winning streak.
“Road wins are tough to come by in this league,” said Toledo senior guard Dominique Buckley, who finished with 15 points. “But this is the best we played together this year. … Today, I feel like we came together as a team.”
The complete opposite could be said for the young Flashes. Kent State trailed 28-25 at halftime, weathered a tough second-half stretch in which it fell behind by 14 points, then managed to pull to within three points late in the game, but it just couldn’t get a clutch defensive stop to pull even.
“It was like the Keystone Cops a little bit,” KSU coach Rob Senderoff said. “We get a stop, we outlet it to them and they get a layup. We get a stop, we have two guys run and hit the ball off each other out of bounds. We have a breakaway layup and dribble it off [our] foot.”
Aside from the streaks, the game also pitted the top two MAC scorers, Toledo junior guard Rian Pearson (19.2 points per game) and Kent State senior forward Chris Evans (16.5 points per game).
All Pearson did against the Flashes was further pad his statistics by garnering game highs in points (27) and rebounds (nine).
“Rian Pearson’s energy was all over the building tonight,” Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said.
This, despite being guarded pretty well by Evans, who also surpassed his average with 20 points to go along with seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
“[Pearson’s] a great player who played well,” Senderoff said. “He’s a high-energy guy with a great motor and who plays really, really hard. It’s amazing because we didn’t do that poor of a job guarding him in the half court. He’s just constantly running, finishing at the rim and always attacking.”
Senderoff probably had a feeling the Flashes were in trouble when they’d already racked up 11 of their 14 turnovers with just three assists in the first half.
Although the Flashes took better care of the ball in the second half, they continued to struggle in finding an offensive rhythm.
They scored just four points in the first four minutes and were quickly facing a 12-point deficit after Buckley made back-to-back 3-pointers at the top of the key.
Evans and junior guard Bryson Pope (10 points, eight rebounds) gave the Flashes life with back-to-back 3-point plays that trimmed the deficit to seven points with 8:14 to go, but Buckley answered again with a basket and pushed Toledo’s lead back to nine.
Back-to-back layups in transition by sophomore point guard Kris Brewer helped whittle the deficit to five points with just under seven minutes left and two free throws by Pope made it 55-52 with 4:43 to go.
But it was as close as the Flashes got to keeping “The Streak” alive.
“This is certainly not the way we wanted to start the league,” Senderoff said. “We did not play well at all in any facet. We had a lot of guys struggle in a lot of different areas.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.