KENT, OHIO - In a game that featured two of the hottest teams in the Mid-American Conference, the Kent State Golden Flashes came back from a 13-point deficit midway through the second half to defeat the Ohio University Bobcats 70-67 Saturday before a crowd of 4,183 at the MAC Center.
A 13-2 run moved KSU in front and the Flashes then held on for their fourth straight victory. Ohio absorbed its first loss after four straight wins.
Kent State's triumph also . . .
Kent State (17-12, 9-7 MAC) has now matched its longest winning streak of the season and moved into a third place tie with Buffalo in the Eastern Division standings. The Bulls lost at home to Akron Friday.
"I'd call that a typical MAC East late February game, where two teams are playing well and competing for something," KSU head coach Rob Senderoff said. "I'm real proud of our team. The resiliency we showed in the second half was great. We had one turnover in the second half. To me, that tells the story of the game. Really proud of the effort. It was one of those knock down drag 'em out games and we made just enough plays like we needed to."
Seniors Jimmy Hall and Deon Edwin led the Flashes attack, each scoring 20 points. Edwin added a career high 18 rebounds, four assists and a steal. Sophomores Jalen Avery and Jaylin Walker each added 10, with Jaylin Walker setting a career high with nine rebounds.
While Ohio (18-9, 10-6) saw its four-game winning streak overall and four-game road winning skein come to an end, the Bobcats are now assured the second seed in the MAC Tournament.
"I thought we tried to score too much off of the dribble and not enough off of the pass," Ohio head man Saul Phillips said. "When we're sharing the ball, we're at our best. It wasn't one guy; it was a team. I thought we were impatient at times and credit to them. They sped us up a little bit. At the same time, we need to do better."
Junior Mike Laster led the Cats with 16 points coming off the bench. Junior Jaaron Simmons added 15 with seven assists while senior Kevin Kaminski had 11.
While the game eventually lived up to its billing, the home team opened an 11-2 lead in the opening minutes.
Ohio withstood the early barrage and battled back into the game thanks to Laster, who had 12 points in the opening half, going five-of-six from the field.
The visitors from Athens put together several three-point leads before using an 8-0 run late in the first half to take control. Simmons connected on a three from the key to give Ohio a 35-27 lead at the break.
Neither team shot the ball well in the first half, with the Bobcats heating up late in the period to go 15-of-33 from the field (43.5%). KSU was just 10-of-29 from the floor (34.5%).
At the start of the second half, Ohio opened its largest lead of the game, 48-35, at the 14:40 mark on an alley-oop layup by sophomore Doug Taylor. The 11-4 spurt was fueled by Kaminski. The transfer from Michigan State and native of nearby Medina, Ohio had seven of those points, including a four-point play at the 15:34 mark.
The Cats had chances to put the game out of reach midway through the second half. However, KSU persevered. Ohio had a pair of seven-point leads and an eight-point advantage late but could not put the game away.
The turning point in the game came with the 'Cats leading 61-53 with 6:08 remaining after Simmons made a jumper from the left wing. The Flashes then rallied for a decisive run down the stretch.
The key man in the run was Hall. With 1:49 remaining, the senior got an offensive rebound off a missed shot from Edwin. Freshman Jason Carter was called for a foul as Hall scored and the senior converted his "and-one: free throw to five KSU a 64-63 edge.
On Ohio’s next possession, Hall came out and blocked Simmons’ shot from the right wing. It was Hall’s 17th double-double of the season
When asked about that series by Hall, Avery said, “He is one of our leaders. He is always there when we needed him.”
The 'Cats closed to within a single point on two occasions, the last being 68-67 on a layup by Laster with 8.8 seconds remaining. However, Jaylin Walker’s two free throws with five seconds remaining sealed the victory and a split in the regular-season series.
We certainly had our chances," said Phillips. "Even on the last play, We had our chances. Listen, we haven't used the road as an excuse, and we aren't going to start tonight. We've had a good season on the road. Certainly this happens to teams all the time on the road."
Kent State helped itself significantly on the boards as it outrebounded Ohio 44-36 over the 40 minutes, with 10 coming on the offensive glass. The Flashes went 17-of-20 from the free throw line in the final 20 minutes, connecting on 12-for-12 in the final moments. The victors also registered just one turnover in the second half (10 for the game).
“The resiliency we showed in the second half was great. “ Senderoff said. “Just making plays when things were not going well. We made just enough plays when we needed to (to get the win).”
Both teams had their struggles shooting from the field. KSU shot 12-of-31 from the field in the second half and 36.7 percent for the game (22-of-60). Ohio was 13-of-37 (35.1%) after the break and just 40 percent overall (28-of-70).
Both teams return to action on Tuesday with KSU heading to Bowling Green to face the Falcons, while Ohio returns home to regoup against Miami.