KENT: Just two weeks ago, Kent State finished a comeback win over Ohio University and maintained its spot atop the Mid-American Conference East Division.
The Golden Flashes still lead the East, but the Bobcats have since slipped to fifth, only one spot ahead of last-place Miami. With a five-game winning streak and a one-game lead on the University of Akron, the Flashes travel to Athens on Friday (9 p.m., ESPNU) to play the Bobcats just 13 days after their first meeting.
The Bobcats (12-7, 3-4 MAC) are 9-1 at home, the lone blemish a 91-75 loss to Bowling Green.
Although KSU coach Rob Senderoff credited Ohio for its home record, the Flashes (15-5, 6-1 MAC) have won all three of their road MAC games, including a victory over the same Falcons team that trounced the Bobcats.
The Flashes stumbled early in their Jan. 16 game against the Bobcats, allowing redshirt junior Kenny Kaminski to lift Ohio to a 22-13 lead midway through the first half. Kaminski, a Michigan State transfer and graduate of Medina High School, connected on three 3-pointers and added a layup for 11 points in that span.
Fueled by freshman guard Jaylin Walker, the Flashes went on a 9-0 run to lead 38-37 at halftime before pulling away.
Senderoff said Kaminski’s first few 3-pointers initially rattled his team, but tough defense by guard Galal Cancer and the rest of the Flashes turned things around.
“You can show guys how good a guy is on film, but until you see it, you may not understand how good he is [right away],” Senderoff said Thursday.
The Flashes won’t have Walker, who injured his foot in practice earlier this week. Senderoff said the team would re-evaluate his status after Friday’s game, but for now he’s in a walking boot. Walker recorded 16 points in the win over the Bobcats and, statistically, is the team’s fifth-best scoring option.
Senderoff said other players will need to step up in Walker’s absence.
“We’re competing nightly and playing for each other,” Senderoff said. “I think that’s a formula for success. [Ohio] has a great environment and with the game being televised, I know our guys will be excited. At the same time, their guys will be excited, too.”
Kaminski and junior forward Antonio Campbell each finished with 21 points in the teams’ first meeting, but the Bobcats’ leading scorer at that point — redshirt sophomore Jaaron Simmons — only managed eight, well below his 15.1 average entering the game.
Defensively, the Flashes forced 15 turnovers and tallied four blocks, buckling down after allowing the early 3-pointers that are sure to be a focus of Senderoff’s defense entering Friday’s contest.
“I don’t want to give up our game plan,” redshirt senior guard Xavier Pollard said in a phone interview this week, “but we’re trying to defend the 3 and force them to hit some tough 2’s.”
Pollard paced the Flashes against the Bobcats with his 23 points, tying his highest total since transferring from Maine. Redshirt junior guard Kellon Thomas added 20 points.
“I’m looking forward to the road game,” Pollard said. “With us being away [from our crowd], we have to focus more. … The 15 guys and coaches, that’s all we have here.”