Sometimes you have to look past the box score to understand the true meaning of a game. Saturday night's 83-75 victory by Kent State (14-11, 5-7 MAC)over Central Michigan (8-16, 1-11 MAC) was one of those games.
By all intents and purposes this was a one-sided affair. The Flashes led by nine at halftime, were scoring at will at the end, and out shot CMU 63 percent to 44 behind career nights from sophomores Kellon Thomas and Chris Ortiz. Yet the reality was this game was far too close for Kent State fans to be comfortable with.
The game started off as an all out battle between the two bottom-of-their-division-squads, with neither team really being able to do much to separate from the other. Thomas and Ortiz, who each finished with 17 points for the game, got the Flashes on the board early, and then the rest of the team chipped in.
Riding the high of their 62-61 last-second win over Bowling Green on Wednesday, the Flashes just couldn't miss and started to pull away late in first half. Nearly every Kent State player scored in the first half, and at halftime KSU led 35-26, and was outshooting the Chippewas by more than 30 percent from the floor in an all out aerial assault.
In fact, only one Kent State player who saw the floor Saturday night didn't score (K.K. Simmons who saw less than one minute of action) and only Devareaux Manley shot below 50 percent from the field for the game. Derek Jackson and Ortiz combined for 13 rebounds on the night as well giving KSU a truly well-rounded effort.
But here's where the problems began. Despite leading CMU for most of the game, and by a decent amount for much of that, the Golden Flashes weren't leading CMU in time of possession, and in fact, the Chippewas took 10 more attempts on the night than KSU. With Kent State scoring so quickly, it gave Central Michigan more time to try and set things up, which allowed the Chips to get back into the game when buckets started falling in the second half.
Chris Fowler, who had a game-high 19 points to go along with five steals, four assists and four rebounds, was able to play more effectively once Blake Hibbits, John Simmons and Braylon Rayson started making shots. The end result was a nice 15-4 run to start the second half and give CMU a 43-41 lead on a Hibbits' 3-pointer at the 13:55 mark.
Oh, and let's not forget, CMU actually won the rebounding, turnover, points-off-turnovers and free throw battles. The last of which helped significantly in the second half run.
Kent State was able to regain the lead less than two minutes after losing it on a 3-pointer by Ortiz (one of his three attempts on the night, which he made all of) and never looked back, but it showed how vulnerable the Flashes really were. If not for CMU forcing some shots, and playing awful perimeter defense, the Chippewas could have been in this game until the final minutes. But with no real inside presence, they couldn't capitalize offensively on winning the rebound battle (most of which were collected off their own missed shots).
In the end, KSU cruised, scoring on uncontested shots in the final minutes of its eight point win.
By winning, Kent State strung together its first winning streak since Jan. 11-15 when the Flashes beat Ball State and NIU in back-to-back games. Central, which has been plagued by awful production from anyone not named Fowler all season, has now lost three straight after beating KSU for its first and only conference win 10 days before.
The Chippewas remain tied with Ball State for last in the MAC, and last in the West. It's a tie that will be broken when the two face off Wednesday in Mt. Pleasant. Kent Sate is not tied with Bowling Green and Miami at the bottom of the east, each with five conference wins. The Flashes still have a shot of salvaging a decent MAC Tournament seed with three games against those teams down the stretch (starting with Miami on Wednesday) but also face Buffalo, Ohio and Akron, the three top teams in the East, in the final weeks (the last two on the road).
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