CLEVELAND: Kent State played true to form in a 76-73 win over Ball State in a Mid-American Conference quarterfinal Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena.

As has been the case on many occasions this season, the Golden Flashes eked out a victory in a game decided by five points or fewer.

Up next is a semifinal game against top-seeded Buffalo at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Although Kent State led the Cardinals by as many as 10 points in both halves, the Flashes were forced to resort to their modus operandi to advance.

One difference came at the free-throw line, where the Flashes connected on 20-of-28 attempts compared to 15-of-20 for the Cardinals.

The biggest difference, however, was the intangible benefit of poise Kent State (17-6) gained during a roller coaster season.

“We’ve been here before and our guys believe they’re going to come away with a win,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “You don’t always do it — we lost [67-65 on March 2] to Akron — but there’s a belief we’re going to find a way and we’re going to make whatever type play you need to make whether it’s on the defensive end or offensive end, and our kids play with confidence.”

Winning those close games has helped the team grow and develop, junior guard Jaylin Walker said.

“I think we are more together and [used to] those types of situations,” said Walker, who scored a team-high 19 points. “And we know we have to win those type games to move on to the next round and further on.”

In the case of center Adonis De La Rosa, there was even a hint of fearlessness. The 7-foot junior center, playing with four fouls, took a chance for a steal against Ball State guard Sean Sellers and the scored tied at 69 with 1:52 to play.

De La Rosa, who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, said he knew what play was coming.

“They had just run the same play four times,” he said, “and I said, ‘All right, I’m going to anticipate this ... especially with the game on the line. I’m going to get this one.’ I just wanted to disrupt anything that felt normal to him. ”

De La Rosa swiped the ball and drew a foul in the process. He connected on both free throws and the Flashes, who had surrendered a 63-53 lead with 8:55 to play, took the lead and never relinquished it.

Tayler Persons scored 19 points and Tahjai Teague had 17 points and 12 rebounds for Ball State (19-13).

Now, the final obstacle between the Flashes and Saturday’s MAC title game is regular-season champion Buffalo. The teams split two meetings this season, with Kent State winning 82-79 at home on Jan. 30 and the Bills winning 84-72 in Buffalo on Feb. 13.

Obviously, the Flashes would prefer to play as they did in that first meeting.

“I think all of those close games get you ready for what we’re facing here,” Senderoff said.

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.