KENT: Entering the Golden Flashes’ game against Fairmont State, a Division II school with several Division I transfers, coach Rob Senderoff said he made a mistake in scheduling such a tough Division II team as a regular season opponent.
His fears nearly were validated Sunday night as Kent State (8-5) survived a missed 3-point attempt at the buzzer to beat the Falcons 77-75 at the M.A.C. Center.
“I knew that I had made a mistake in scheduling them,” Senderoff said after the game. “And we almost paid for it. … Play them as an exhibition: great learning experience. Play them as a regular season game and had we lost, and knock on wood that we didn’t, it would have been a tough one to overcome for sure.”
The Flashes led by 17 with 10 minutes left in the game. Fairmont State then hit a couple of 3-pointers, forced a couple of turnovers and pushed the tempo, slicing KSU’s lead down to four with two minutes remaining.
Leading by three with 1:18 to play, freshman Kellon Thomas missed two free throws but Kent State kept the ball after Chris Evans battled for the rebound and had the ball go out of bounds off of Fairmont State. FSU’s Malik Stith, a St. John’s transfer, made a layup to bring Fairmont State (5-3) within one, 76-75. Evans was then fouled with 24.8 seconds on the clock and made one of two free throws.
Stith drove to the basket in the closing seconds and kicked it out to a wide-open Isaac Thornton, who missed a would-be game-winning 3-pointer. Bryson Pope pulled down the rebound as time expired.
“In our book, a win is a win, regardless if you win by one or if you win by 30,” Randal Holt said. “We came out tonight, we fought it out, we were in a dog fight.”
Senderoff was glad to win, but wasn’t as thrilled with another poor performance after building a big lead. Against Arkansas State, KSU led by nine points before the Red Wolves fought back and cut that lead down to a single point as well.
“My concern for our team is that we had a nine-point lead against Arkansas State and we couldn’t stretch it and we had a 17-point lead in this game and we couldn’t stretch it,” Senderoff said. “Eventually, it’s going to come back to bite us. That to me is a no-brainer, it’s just a matter of when.
“We have to get better at staying focused, closing out games, keeping up our defensive intensity, taking care of the basketball — you can go on and on.”
Evans led all scorers with a career-high 27 points (9-of-16 from the field, 6-of-10 from 3-point range) and had nine rebounds. At one point in the first half, he nailed five 3-point attempts in a row and three on consecutive possessions.
“I got a lot of open looks out in the zone they were playing and my teammates were finding me on the wings and in the corners, so they were really just giving me the ball in good spots and I was able to knock down open shots tonight,” Evans said. “After I saw the first one go in, I think probably the first two, I felt like it was going to be a good night for me.”
Holt had a quiet 10 points, and with two minutes left in the game, took what should have been an easy basket for Fairmont State on a fast break and was able to hit the ball off of Stith’s leg and out of bounds, preserving KSU’s 76-73 lead at the time.
“They made a run which we knew they were going to do, and basketball is a game of runs so all we had to do was stay calm, stay poised on defense and answer their run,” he said.
Kent State also survived some bad timing. Evans, Kris Brewer and Pope were late returning from Christmas break due to delayed flights and didn’t start. Thomas, Devareaux Manley and Melvin Tabb received a bit more playing time early in the game.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.