The Golden Flashes trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half and by a 37-27 score at the break. But after struggling with Eastern Michigan's 2-3 zone for 20 minutes, Kent State used defense to ignite a 20-5 run to open the second half. A steal for a breakaway layup by Jackson in the opening seconds provided the momentum changer.
"I thought the defensive energy to start the second half really changed the game and gave us a chance to win it," said Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff, whose Flashes improved to 11-5 overall and 2-1 in Mid-American Conference play. "That start to the second half was really important to us."
(CLICK READ MORE TO CONTINUE . . . )
Jackson was 4-of-5 from three point range in a 14-point night. Three of the jumpers arrived just before the buzzer sounded on the shot clock.
"That last three was a huge shot," said Senderoff. "If Derek doesn't make that, it is a different game. Eastern Michigan really did a good job of not allowing Devareaux Manley to get good looks, and I think that helped Derek get open. The mark of a good team is having different guys step up when you need them."
Ortiz kept Kent State in the hunt with nine first-half points. He added three rebounds, two assists, a blocked shot and a steal in 28 hard-working minutes.
"I'm happy for Chris and proud of his performance," said Senderoff. "He did a lot of really good things for us and gave us a career night. He was especially good offensively in the first half when a lot of our guys struggled."
Kent State found several other key contributions as Jimmy Hall scored 13 points, overcoming a difficult first half that saw him shoot 1-for-6 from the field. He ended up going 5-for-13 from the field while adding nine rebounds.
"Gary Akbar also gave us some good minutes off the bench," said Senderoff. "He hadn't played in a while, but he brought us some important energy and played well."
Kent State's defense shut down Eastern Michigan to just 24 percent shooting in the second half (6-for-25) after the Eagles shot it at a 51.7-percent clip in the opening half. The Flashes also came back from a 20-12 rebounding deficit at halftime to win that battle 35-33.
Karrington Ward led the Eagles with 12 points in the first half, but he was held scoreless after the break.
Eastern's top scorer, Raven Lee, scored just four points on 2-for-12 shooting after coming into the day averaging 14.8 per night. Talley finished with 16 points to top all scorers for the Eagles, who fell to 11-5 on the year and 0-3 in MAC play.
"It's great to get a win at home," said Senderoff. "It's great to get any win in this league. But more importantly, it was great to play the way we are capable of playing in front of our fans. Hopefully even more fans will come out on Saturday after seeing us play so hard tonight."
Kent State returns to action on Saturday when Ohio University visits the M.A.C. Center at 7 p.m. ET. Eastern Michigan, still in search of its first MAC victory, hosts Northern Illinois Saturday (noon, ET).
(Courtesy of KSU Athletics)