KENT, OHIO – The Kent State Golden Flashes moved into a first place tie in the Mid-American Conference Eastern Division as they defeated the Miami Redhawks, 76-68, Tuesday night at the MAC Center.
Kent State (11-5, 2-1 MAC) rebounded from its first home loss of the season Friday night against Buffalo by fending off a second half RedHawk challenge.
The Flashes built a 15-point second half lead, only to see the visitors slice the margin to two points . . .
“I am glad we won tonight. We needed the win,” KSU head coach Rob Senderoff said. “A lot of guys stepped up tonight”
Redshirt junior guard Kellon Thomas led the Flashes with 19 points and four assists. Junior Jimmy Hall added 18 with six rebounds and three assists, while senior Chris Ortiz came off the bench to score 12 and pulled down eight boards.
Miami (6-10, 0-3 MAC) suffered its sixth consecutive loss and remain winless on the road (0-6) so far this season.
Senior Eric Washington led all scorers in the game with 20 points and added two assists. Fellow senior Geovanie McKnight added 18 with four rebounds and three assists. During the game, McKnight surpassed the 1,000 points mark in his career at MU.
KSU held the lead for the opening 10 minutes building as much as an eight-point lead before the Redhawks used a 9-0 run to take their only lead of the game, 18-15, at the 7:31 mark on a driving layup by senior Willie Moore.
The Flashes finished the opening period with a 9-2 run, highlighted by a three pointer from the right arc by junior Deon Edwin and a jumper by Hall just before the buzzer for a 34-27 lead at intermission.
Kent State continued its run with a 7-2 spurt at the start of the second half to open a 41-29 lead at the 17:48 when senior Khaliq Spicer hit a running layup. That marked a 16-4 run spanning both halves.
Miami, which also started slowly in the first half, then reeled in the Flashes with a run of its own, scoring 12 unanswered points to tie the game, 41-41, at the 13:30 mark on a layup by senior Chris Bryant.
KSU regained the lead, 43-41, on a slam dunk by Ortiz and went on to outscore MU 21-6. That gave the hosts their largest lead of the evening, 62-47, on a putback by Edwin with 5:30 remaining.
For the next four minutes, Miami started making shots from the field. That allowed the RedHawks to use their trapping pressure defense, which forced KSU into turnovers and subsequent points.
Miami’s 17-4 run closed the gap to two point, 66-64, at the 1:21 mark on a three-pointer from the left arc by Washington. He scored 15 points in the second half, 11 of which came in the final 2:20.
Kent State steadied the ship, making six of eight free throws down the stretch, while MU had key misses from Washington and Dion Wade from beyond the arc. That allowed the Flashes to rebuild an eight-point lead on two occasions, which included the final score.
The win, coupled with Akron’s loss at Central Michigan, moved the Flashes into a first-place tie in the Eastern Division.
In two December games, the Flashes squandered big second half leads, losing to Penn State in Las Vegas at the Continental Tire Classic and then coming back to win at North Carolina A&T.
"I would have liked to have seen (us) do a better job of closing out the game, but we had several guys step up and make plays when we needed them over the final two minutes, Senderoff said.
"We were up 15 with a little over five minutes to go, and then we stopped guarding and got a little careless with the ball. Overall, I thought we did a nice job defensively, especially the first 15 minutes of the second half. We have guys that have never been in situations like this, so we'll need to learn from it and close games out better going forward."
KSU shot 11-of-21 from the field in the second half, finishing the game at 48.9 percent (23-of-47). The Flashes turned the ball over 17 times, resulting in 21 Miami points. The RedHawks, who rank last among MAC teams in field goal percentage (41.4%), only shot 39.3 percent from the floor.
Kent State completes a three-game home stand Saturday night when the Ohio Bobcats come to town. Miami continues its road trek at Muncie to face Ball State.