KENT: One of the reasons basketball coaches love working with upperclassmen is their poise during games. Unlike freshmen and sophomores, juniors and seniors have played through so many experiences on the floor, there are few situations left that can rattle them.
That’s why Kent State’s string of second-half collapses, including Saturday’s 84-75 loss to its main rival, Akron, is so troubling.
No doubt any Mid-American Conference team will encounter a bump in the road during league play, especially given the MAC’s relative parity.
But giving up 87 points in consecutive games and then 84 again Saturday meant a near loss against visiting Bowling Green followed by two losses at Ohio and Akron.
A lack of defense down the stretch has been the main culprit for struggling Kent State (12-6 overall, 2-3 in MAC), which has dropped to fourth place in the MAC East. Ohio (15-4, 3-2) and Buffalo (10-6, 3-2) are tied for second place, while Akron (12-7, 4-1) is alone at the top with just one league loss to Buffalo.
But after the Zips used a string of four consecutive 3-pointers to turn a nine-point second-half deficit into a three-point advantage with some 11 minutes to go Saturday, a more acute problem surfaced for Kent State.
“After [we] hit those 3’s, it took a lot out of them,” said Zips sophomore forward Nick Harney, who recorded a career-high 21 points. including 19 in the second half. “They started playing stagnant and just trying to create for themselves, not really playing [together] like they were in the first half.”
The Flashes still had enough time to regroup and respond, just as any senior-laden squad would look to do. Instead, they played stunned the rest of the way, all but conceding defeat for the second consecutive road outing.
“Down the stretch, we [haven’t] been guarding,” Flashes senior forward Justin Greene said. “That’s all it’s been. We didn’t fight back, and that’s something that’s in our hearts. That has nothing to do with basketball. It’s all heart.
“If we don’t get it better, it’s going to be a long season. We have to step on people’s throats. We can’t have eight- and 10-point leads, control [a majority of] the game and then just give it away. That’s all heart. That’s all on us.”
The fact that the Flashes — including the starting five, consisting of four seniors and a junior — have wilted at the first hint of trouble instead of gathering their pride and fighting back is troubling for many, including first-year coach Rob Senderoff.
“That’s what concerns me the most,” he said. “We are up by 10 points with 13 minutes to go, and they don’t tie the game until the 11:30 mark. So for about 28 minutes, we competed at the level we are supposed to. What I’m more concerned with is, ‘OK, they tied it with [inside] 12 minutes to go. Where is the response by us?’ ”
It’s a response the Flashes will need to search for quickly, with another pair of road games looming this week – Wednesday at Northern Illinois and Saturday at Toledo.
The Flashes won their seventh consecutive dual Friday with a 23-9 victory at Ohio, as Kent State (9-4, 2-0 in the MAC) claimed seven-of-10 matches. Freshman Ian Miller used eight takedowns, including a five-point pancake late in the match, to score the Flashes’ only bonus points of the dual via a 21-5 technical fall victory.
The women’s track and field team trounced rival Akron, 91-59, in a dual meet Friday at the Kent State Field House.
“We wanted to send a message on the women’s side,” KSU’s director of track and field Bill Lawson said in a news release. “We told the team we could go out here and score 90 points, and we did. ”
Akron native and sophomore Shanequa Williams recorded victories in the 200-?meter dash (24.48) and 400-?meter dash (55.65). In addition, KSU swept the top four places in the 200 with another Akron product: sophomore Erica Hutson, right behind Williams with a time of 57.78. Freshman Kaila Gardner took third (59.39) and freshman Lynnese Beyan was fourth (59.59).
For the second consecutive season, three KSU football players were named to the 2011 Academic All-Mid-American Conference Football Team. Senior running back Jacquise Terry (3.55 GPA as an aeronautics major) earned academic all-conference accolades for the third consecutive year. He was joined on the first team by junior quarterback Spencer Keith (3.82, mathematics major) and senior punter Matt Rinehart (3.43, nursing major).
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Storm on Twitter at www.twitter.com/sstorm13. Follow Beacon Journal sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.