KENT: Kent State had the game against Valparaiso all but wrapped up Sunday, but the Golden Flashes couldn’t close out the Crusaders and eventually fell in overtime 88-83 at the M.A.C. Center in the second game of the Joe Cipriano Nebraska Classic.
Leading 75-72 with 7.2 seconds left, the Flashes (2-2) chose to foul one of Valpo’s poorer free-throw shooters, Erik Buggs, instead of allowing a 3-point attempt to tie the score.
Buggs made the first free throw and missed the second, as planned.
Kent State freshman Chris Ortiz had the ball in his hands but had it knocked away. It was then flung toward the basket and corralled by Valpo’s Kevin Van Wijk (25 points), who brought it down and made the put-back with one second left to tie the game.
After having the game stolen from them in the final seconds, the Flashes came out sluggish in overtime, turned the ball over on three of their first five possessions and watched as Valpo (3-1) went on a 7-0 scoring run to start the extra period.
“It hit us, that was a hard blow,” guard Randal Holt (20 points, five steals) said of the game-tying basket. “We still gotta bounce back and play basketball.”
Sunday’s game was the type that showed coach Rob Senderoff where his team really stands, physically and mentally. He was almost speechless from frustration after the game.
“[This was a] tough one, absolutely,” Senderoff said. “We get a rebound, we win the game. Don’t know what else to say. ... At the end of the day, you get a rebound, we all go home happy
“We had the game won. I don’t know what else to say. You gotta be tougher to bounce back out of that and obviously we’re not right now. That’s the bottom line, you gotta be tougher and want it more.”
Searching for an identity
This loss leaves the Golden Flashes reeling to find an identity for a team with quite a few moving parts.
“Apparently, we’re not as tough as we need to be,” Senderoff said. “We don’t understand how tough it is to win a game.”
Holt’s 20 points and five steals were both team highs. Leading 73-72 with under 10 seconds to play, Holt swiped the ball from Van Wijk. Chris Evans (18 points, four steals) then picked it up, was fouled and hit both free throws.
“We’re just trying to find our niche as a team,” Holt said. “We’ve got a lot of newcomers, a lot of guys who never played together before. [Coach Senderoff] puts together a great game plan every game. It’s our job to go out there and execute it.
“We were up by three in regulation, we wanted to foul on the ground and of course come up with the rebound, which we didn’t do. They got the put-back, went into overtime and that’s all she wrote.”
Kent State dug itself a hole early with fouls and turnovers. The Flashes committed 12 team fouls and 11 turnovers in the first half alone, and finished with 32 and 18, respectively. It didn’t cost KSU as much as it could have, though. Valparaiso was equally shaky and had 27 team fouls and 20 turnovers. KSU also struggled from the free-throw line in the second half, shooting only 68 percent (19-28).
“The turnovers were a problem. ... but I don’t think the turnovers are what cost us,” Senderoff said. “I’m more concerned about the defense. The defense, and how you don’t get a rebound and the mentality of our guys. We’ve won a ton of games with a lot of turnovers, that’s not the issue. The issue is 1,000 percent defense and how we don’t get a rebound when we need one.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.