On Saturday night the Ohio Bobcats traveled north to take on MAC East Foe Kent State in the Flashes M.A.C Center. The Bobcats came into play having won 4 in a row after losing their best player, Antonio Campbell to injury earlier in the season. Ohio initially went 3-4 after losing their big guy but has since righted the ship. The Bobcats have themselves positioned nicely with just three games to play at 10-5 in the conference, two games ahead of the pack for the two seed in the MAC tournament. Ohio hosted Kent State earlier this season down in Athens, OH and laid a beat down on the Flashes 85-67, on January 6th.
Kent State came into Saturday’s game with a whole new outlook after upsetting cross-town rival Akron University, breaking up their 30-game home winning streak and then snapping Buffalo’s six game winning streak. The Flashes brought a 3-game winning streak of their own into the bout with Ohio, and they had a whole lot to play for. The Flashes were sitting in fourth place and in position for the sixth seed in the MAC tournament at 8-7. A win over the Bobcats would draw them even with Western Michigan, Buffalo and Ball State, in a four way tie for 3rd place in the conference at 9-7. The game featured two of the hottest teams in the MAC both riding winning streaks, something had to give.
Kent State would get out to a 11-2 lead behind 2 three-balls from Jalen Avery and one from Deon Edwin. Ohio quickly responded though, cutting the Kent State lead to 12-9 at the 11:52 mark. Mike Laster would come off of the Ohio bench scorching hot and put in 12 first half points in route to helping Ohio grab the lead at 24-23 with 3:50 in the half. Ohio would keep things rolling their way, and a Jaaron Simmons triple with the clock winding down gave the Bobcats a 35-27 lead going into the break.
Early in the second half Jaylin Walker would cut Ohio’s lead to just three but back-to-back triples from Kenny Kaminski pushed the Bobcat lead to 43-34 with 15:34 to play. The Flashes would answer with an 8-0 run capped by a Jimmy Hall dunk to make it 43-38 with 12:20 in the game. Ohio had multiple opportunities to extend their lead but the Flashes stayed within striking distance and trailed 59-51 with 7:32 on the clock.
Edwin was everywhere for the Flashes in this one. Rebounding the ball well and consistently knifing through the Ohio defense, either scoring or drawing a whistle. After a pair of Edwin free throws, Walker would convert a put-back with 3:24, cutting the Ohio lead to just 2 points at 61-59. The M.A.C. Center was electric down the stretch but the Flashes failed to convert on three consecutive trips with a chance to tie or take the lead and Ohio would broaden the lead to 63-59 with 2:40 left.
Kent State’s Avery would make two free throws cutting the lead to 63-61 and after a defensive stop, the Flashes would finally break through with a Hall rebound, put-back and foul. Hall’s free throw put the Flashes ahead 64-63 and they wouldn’t look back as Walker went 4-for-4 from the stripe to seal the comeback win for Kent State, 70-67.
The Flashes have now beaten Akron(1st), Buffalo(3rd) and Ohio(2nd) consecutively and have won four in a row overall. In all four of those wins, they trailed at halftime. They were able to pull Saturday’s win out after falling behind by 13 in the second half. They were led by a remarkable performance from Edwin who put up 20 points and 18 rebounds while Hall wasn’t far behind with 20 points and 10 rebounds of his own. The Flashes shot just 5-of-27 from distance in a winning effort. The win pulls them even with Western Michigan, Buffalo and Ball State at 9-7 in MAC play and tied for 3rd place. They are now very much in the hunt for one of the top four seeds, which would earn them a 1st round bye in the MAC tournament. They improve to 17-12 overall and will travel to Bowling Green for a 6 PM EST start on Tuesday.
Ohio got terrific performances from Laster with 16 points and Simmons with 15 and 7 dimes. The Bobcats loss clinches 1st place in the MAC for Akron and leaves the Bobcats just a game ahead of the pack in second place. They drop to 18-9 overall and 10-6 in the conference. Ohio will host Buffalo in Athens, OH on Tuesday night at 6 PM EST.