The only upset of the quarterfinals on Thursday happened in the last game, and it saw the two-time defending MAC champs fall as Kent State knocked off Buffalo in a two-and-a-half hour long 68-65 slug fest.
The first half saw both teams go up and down the court, trading blows. But while they did that, both teams also piled up the fouls and turnovers, marring the otherwise solid showing. The two teams would end up combining for 23 fouls and 14 turnovers in the half, but three separate 5-0 or better runs would give the Golden Flashes a 39-32 lead at the half.
And if you thought the first half was bad, woah nelly! The second half was worse.
Jimmy Hall would wake up, and he started playing like the All-MAC player he is, but his moments of brilliance were interrupted by constant trips to the line. Other solid contributors like Deon Edwin and Jaylin Walker for the Flashes and Blake Hamilton and Nick Perkins for the Bulls tried their hardest, but the constant foul trips ended their nights early. David Kadiri joined those four as the five players who fouled out of the game.
And while the Flashes got out to an 11 point lead, the Bulls did battle back. They were able to make it a one point game in the final minute, but Hall hit a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left to force Buffalo to take a game-tying three in the final seconds. CJ Massinburg’s desperation heave went wide, and Kent State advanced onto the semi-finals.
The two teams combined for 56 total fouls - 30 of which came in the 2nd half - and they shot a combined 75 free throws. In fact, the Golden Flashes had more attempts from the free throw line in the 2nd half than they did attempts from the floor in their normal offense. And it appeared neither team found their rhythm on the night. Be it the physical defense or the standing around for free throws, both teams shot 35.3% from the floor and combined for 25 turnovers.
“We were both very physical teams, we’ve been both physical teams all year. It was a tough game to officiate, but I thought (the officials) did a good job tonight,” Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff said afterwards.
“It’s hard to live with, especially with the group of seniors we have. For those three seniors to go out like that, it’s tough to handle,” Buffalo coach Nate Oats said in his press conference.
In the end, Hall finished with 24 points and 8 rebounds, with half of his points coming from the foul line. Edwin had a double-double, providing a boost in the first half when Hall struggled to get going. The guard finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Walker added 12 points before fouling out.
For the Bulls, Hamilton - the hero of last year’s MAC Championship game - finished with 17 points to lead Buffalo. Massinburg had a solid double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, and played a large chunk of the game (37 minutes), but went 2-for-11 from the floor. As you can guess, his 11-for-13 mark from the line bolstered his scoring output. Perkins added 11 points in a losing effort.
The Golden Flashes must now turn around from a late, hard-fought finish to play the Ohio Bobcats in the 2nd semi-final on Friday night. Tip-off is estimated for 8 pm, but will occur 30 minutes after the Akron/Ball State semi-final that tips-off at 5:30 pm.