The shot, like Kent State’s chance at avoiding its third conference losing streak, was close. But eventually the shot fell off the rim and into the hands of a Buffalo defender. The Bulls’ following possession ended in a Davonta Jordan 3-pointer to give Buffalo a 101-97 lead with 1:23 left.
The sequence was a microcosm of Kent State’s performance — close, but not quite.
The Flashes would score one more point on a free-throw from Williamson, as they doubled their total from Tuesday’s 70-49 loss at Eastern Michigan.
The Flashes drop to 17-10, 7-7 in Mid-American Conference play. Here are five takeaways from Kent State’s toughest loss of the season:
1. Junior forward Danny Pippen was sidelined by a back injury.
Pippen scored a game-high 20 points when Kent State played Buffalo on Jan. 24.
“His back locked up at practice today,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “He can’t stand straight right now. He’ll get round-the-clock treatment. I know he wants to play basketball. He’ll get treatment, and as soon as he can come back, he’ll come back.”
Pippen adds 3-point shooting, rim protection and depth, three things the Flashes needed down the stretch as Buffalo scored 10 points in the paint over the final two overtimes.
“We’re missing one of our main guys,” Senderoff said. “That’s no excuse at all, but it’s hard. He’s a rim protector. The first time we played them he impacted so many shots at the basket.”
Pippen’s timetable to return to the lineup is unknown at this point.
2. Senior guard Antonio Williams scored a career-high 34 points, but playing 48 minutes took a toll on him late.
With under two minutes left in regulation, Williams turned the ball over in back-to-back possessions, leading to four Buffalo free-throws. The Bulls went 3-for-4 to take an 80-77 lead.
Senior forward Philip Whittington scored a crucial layup to cut the deficit to one. Buffalo would get a dunk later to take a 3-point lead.
Williams chucked up a 3-pointer from the right wing that missed the rim to the left. Whittington secured the rebound and found sophomore guard Anthony Roberts on the left wing for the game-tying three with 26 seconds left.
Buffalo would miss its shot at the buzzer, and the game would head to overtime, but the Williams mistake above highlighted a much larger problem on Friday night: a lack of depth.
“He played really well, and late in the game you could see he was exhausted,” Senderoff said. “The last three that Jordan hit [Williams] left his feet, and he probably shouldn’t have, but he couldn’t even get himself back in the play. He was spent. I couldn’t get him out because I didn’t have enough guys. We’re down a player.”
3. Roberts scored a career-high 23 points, but foul trouble limited his playing time during important stretches.
He hit the shot to send the game to its first overtime, but a stretch earlier in the game was almost as important.
Buffalo opened the second half on a 7-2 run over 3:10 to cut Kent State’s lead to 41-40.
Roberts responded with 12 points in less than two minutes. He followed the scoring outburst with his fourth foul with nearly 16 minutes to play.
“Everybody just told me to calm down,” Roberts said. “They told me to keep my composure. So that’s what I did.”
Roberts’ ability to avoid fouling out and make tough, clutch shots could be something to build on moving forward when Pippen comes back.
4. Whittington played well, but, similar to Williams, fatigue set in and he was less effective in the final minutes.
After grabbing the offensive rebound to setup Roberts’ 3-pointer to send the game to overtime, Whittington grabbed one more rebound through both overtimes.
“He played 46 minutes, and he was gassed,” Senderoff said. “He gave up some offensive rebounds late, and he had a couple fall through his hands. He was tired. They were tired too, but they made a couple more plays.”
Whittington, like the team as a whole, struggled to close. He played 46 minutes, all of which involved being the primary rim protector. He blocked two shots and avoided foul trouble, but the lack of a meaningful rotation kept him in the game too long.
5. Buffalo’s 3-point barrage nullified Roberts’ and Williams’ performances.
The Bulls had shot under 30 percent from three more times than they’ve shot over in Mid-American Conference play. When a team has failed to make 30 percent of its 3-point attempts in eight of 14 conference games entering a matchup, shooting near 50 percent and making 15 threes seems ludicrous.
Well, that’s exactly what Buffalo did on Friday night — more specifically Jayvon Graves, who finished 7-for-10 from three. Jordan added four 3-pointers, shooting 50 percent from three.
“Hats off to them, man,” Senderoff said. “Going into this year [Jordan] was a really bad 3-point shooter for his career. This year, he’s been really good. He’d been struggling of late. My guess would be that he’s been in the gym a lot.”
Kent State will play Miami on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the M.A.C. Center. The last time the Flashes played them they lost 77-74 on Jan. 14.
“Everyone on the roster who played had a play or two that if they made it, the game might be different,” Senderoff said. “It was just a battle. One team goes home happy. The other team goes home miserable. So we’re the team that goes home miserable.”
Ian Kreider is a sports reporter. Contact him at email@example.com.