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Kent State Golden Flashes vs. Toledo Rockets men's basketball preview

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

The surging Toledo Rockets (16-8, 8-3) will look to avenge an early season defeat as they host the Kent State Golden Flashes (16-8, 7-4) at Savage Arena on Friday evening. The Rockets are riding high, winners of six straight conference games and appear to be regaining the form that made them the unanimous preseason conference favorite.  Meanwhile the Golden Flashes look to recapture some of the form displayed early in conference play that saw Coach Rob Senderoff's team jump out to a surprising 6-1 start.

While Kent has lost three of four, the losses included difficult road contests at Buffalo, Western Michigan and earlier this week at arch rival Akron.  Compounding the challenging schedule has been the absence of leading scorer and rebounder, sophomore forward Jimmy Hall, who has missed the last three games with mononucleosis.

Hall was averaging 15.1 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game on the season and just less than 17 points per game in conference play.  There still appears to be no set timetable for Hall's return and the flashes will have to lean heavily on senior guard Devareaux Manley, who is averaging 12.8 points per game to pick up the scoring slack.  Manley dropped 21 against the Rockets in their first meeting on January 21, leading the Flashes along with guard Kris Brewer who added 18.

For the Rockets, who stumbled out of the gate in conference play with a 2-3 record; a hard fought 92-88 road victory at Buffalo, has the midnight blue and gold back on top of the MAC West Standings.  The Rockets have been remarkably balanced during their six game winning streak, as shown on Tuesday against the Bulls when all five starters reached double figures and the visitors made an incredible 12-14 three point field goals.

Despite an overall balanced attack, senior guards Julius Brown and Justin Drummond have really excelled of late averaging 20.2 and 15.8 points per game respectively over the last six contests to lead the Rockets.   Look for Brown and Drummond to seek some personal redemption against the Flashes, as the dynamic guard duo was held to just nine and eleven points in the team's first meeting at Kent.

Helping to fuel the Rockets run of success had been Coach Kowalczyk's team's remarkably consistent performance from the charity stripe during their recent winning streak.  Already second in the conference as a team in Free Throw percentage at just over 73%, the Rockets have been tremendously clutch at the line over the last six converting close to 80% of their attempts.

As we head towards the last few weeks of MAC play, this game will be tremendously pivotal for both teams looking to secure byes heading towards the MAC Tournament in Cleveland.   The home contest will be key in maintaining momentum for Toledo as they are in the midst of a 4 out of 5 stretch of road games including challenging trips to both Akron and Western Michigan next week.  Meanwhile for the Flashes, a road win at Savage Arena would be a huge boost in the standings as they try to remain with in arms reach of East leaders Akron and Bowling Green.

Tipoff on Friday is at 6:00 p.m. and can be seen on ESPNU or streamed online at UTRockets.com.