KENT, OHIO – The Kent State Golden Flashes ended their season-high three-game losing streak Tuesday as they defeated the Northern Illinois Huskies, 75-74, at the MAC Center.
Graduate student Galal Cancer hit two free throws with 7.5 seconds remaining as Kent State (16-8, 7-4 MAC) prevailed after squandering a pair of nine-point leads. Travon Baker’s bucket with 15 seconds left capped a 10-0 Huskie rally that gave the visitors a 74-73 lead, but KSU nailed the crucial free throws to edge back in front.
The victory lifted Kent State into . . .
“It was a great win. We needed it.” KSU head coach Rob Senderoff said. “The defense kept us in the game in the first half, and then we found a way to score in the second half.”
Senior Khaliq Spicer led four KSU players in double figures with 17 points, along with seven rebounds. Cancer added 13 with six boards. Junior Jimmy Hall had 11 with 12 rebounds and four assists, while fellow junior Kellon Thomas also had 11 with three helpers.
Northern Illinois (16-8, 5-6 MAC) suffered its fifth consecutive defeat. However, the Huskies remained just one game back in the Western Division, trailing the tri-leaders Toledo, Ball State, and Central Michigan.
NIU junior Aaric Armstead led all scorers in the contest with 22 points, five rebounds and two steals. Sophomore Marin Maric added 14 with 10 rebounds, and senior Baker had 12 markers with four boards, seven assists and a steal.
The Flashes held as much as a five-point, 14-9, lead early after a contested layup by junior Deon Edwin. NIU countered with a 15-5 spurt to take its largest lead of the opening half, 24-19, at the 5:13 mark on a pair of free throws by freshman Marshawn Wilson.
The game stayed close, with the Huskies taking a 28-26 lead at intermission. Two factors resulted in the NIU lead. First, was going 12-of-14 from the free throw line. Second, KSU turned the ball over 11 times, which the Huskies converted into 15 points.
At the start of the second half, Kent State used a 9-2 run to open a 35-29 lead at the 17:49 mark on a driving layup by Hall, who registered his fifth double-double of the season.
KSU’s biggest advantage of the second half was 11 at 60-49 when Hall connected on a jumper at the 6:51 mark. The lead then fluctuated between seven and 10 points until the final moments when Northern Illinois made its final push.
With 1:25 remaining and the Flashes leading after a pair of Spicer free throws, NIU scored the next 10 points on a pair of threes by Armstead and four points from Baker, whose jumper with 15 seconds remaining gave the visitors a 74-73 lead.
On the next possession, Cancer was fouled by Baker. He calmly made both of his free throws to give the Flashes a 75-74 lead. Cancer then hounded Baker off the inbounds. He and Spicer forced Baker into a halfcourt shot that hit the rim and fell off as time expired
When asked about the final play of the game, Cancer said “I was trying to make a play and be aggressive to get to the rim. I'm not worried (about) making or missing foul shots. I had a rough start to the year, so I just got back to the mechanics and have shot better throughout the season."
Cancer, who has his degree from Cornell, has been playihg more minutes due to the injuries to fifth year senior Xavier Pollard (out for the season after foot surgery) and freshman Jaylin Walker (lower body).
“I would have liked to have closed the game out a little better,” Senderhoff said. But we found a way to make a play at the end to win."
KSU shot 57.1 percent from the field in the second half and went 13-of-18 from the charity stripe while committing just two turnovers. NIU stayed right with the Flashes, shooting 50 percent from the floor and making just two mistakes themselves.
Both teams return to action on Saturday with the Flashes heading to Eastern Michigan, while NIU returns home to welcome the East-leading Zips.