The Kent State Golden Flashes are fighting for a possible bye to the quarterfinals of the 2016 MAC Tournament, and they finish the regular season with a jarring trip to face Akron. They really, really needed a win tonight.
Who better to face in that situation than the reeling Bowling Green Falcons?
BGSU has been a picture of inconsistency throughout the season. In recent weeks, they had lost winnable games against Ball State, Miami, Western MIchigan and Buffalo, but they had also been manhandled by Northern Illinois and Akron. Then, all of a sudden, they stole a win from Ohio one week ago -- only to see the bottom fall out in a 35-point loss at Akron last Friday.
Kent State had already laid the groundwork for tonight when they squeaked out a 62-59 win at Bowling Green on Jan. 21. Tonight, they merely expanded on that foundation.
The game started innocently enough, with the teams playing to an 8-8 tie through the first media timeout. The few minutes that followed were a display of basketball which would kindly be described as ugly. In that stretch, the teams combined to miss 14 consecutive shots and suffer six turnovers, three on offensive fouls.
KSU finally broke the deadlock with a bucket by Jaylin Walker at the 12:01 mark for a 10-8 lead. The Falcons, meanwhile, went 8:27 before finally hitting another field goal. The basket by Spencer Parker tied the game at 12; it would be the last time the Falcons did not trail.
Jimmy Hall provided what would ultimately be the game-winning three on the following possession for a 15-12 lead, then Walker buried a trey on a fast break just a minute later for a 20-14 edge.
BGSU coach Michael Huger was not happy and called a timeout at that point, then the following tweet popped up:
To be fair, the Falcons kept the Kent State lead to just single digits for the remainder of the half and even clawed to within three on a pair of Wes Alcegaire free throws inside the final minute of the half. BGSU had a chance to tie the game after a Kellon Thomas miss, but Ismail Ali could not put home a shot. Galal Cancer followed with a transition three to give the Flashes a 33-27 lead at the half.
That sequence was likely the beginning of the end for Bowling Green. They were able to tread water at the beginning of the second half, but Hall sank an and-one jumper going into the first media timeout. The free throw gave KSU a 10-point lead, and they never gave up the double-digit edge.
The Flashes eventually led by as many as 20 before closing with a 16-point win.
Hall was the star of the game for Kent State. He made ten of 14 shots and scored 11 in each half.. He also pulled down nine rebounds, including four on offense. He was all over the place and opened space for other players. This was true in particular for Cancer, who scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half and made a trio of treys.
Thomas added ten points, and Chris Ortiz was a monster on the boards with a game-best 12.
Overall, Kent State shot 46.4 percent (52.2 in the second half), and they made 13 of their 16 free throws. The Flashes won the rebounding battle 39-29 and held a 32-28 advantage in points in the paint.
For BGSU, Parker's big second half led to a team-high 15 points. Alcegaire added 14, but the Falcons got scant contributions from other key pieces such as Zack Denny (6 points), Rasheed Worrell (2) and Antwon Lillard (4). KSU's defense held the Falcons to just 37.5 percent on their field goal attempts.
Kent State is now 19-11 overall and 10-7 in the MAC. They are part of a four-way tie for second place going into the final regular season game. At least one of those four teams will have to play in the first round of the MAC Tournament, so tonight's win was very important for KSU.
This was also the 100th win in the career of Flashes' head coach Rob Senderoff.
Bowling Green has now lost nine of their last 10 games and is 2-11 since a 3-1 start to the conference season. They are 14-16 overall, and their 5-12 MAC record places them in sole possession of last place in the conference. They will be on the road for the first round of the tournament, likely against the #5 seed.