Just 13 minutes into a rematch against the University of Toledo, the Kent State men’s basketball team was in dire straits.
Down 21 points, coach Rob Senderoff was digging deep from the bench early and burning timeouts to stop the bleeding.
The Flashes must have flipped a magic switch during one of those timeouts because the Kent State defense materialized out of thin air.
Kent State shut down the Toledo (11-10, 3-5 Mid-American Conference) offense and went on a 22-4 run to go into the break down only three.
The Flashes controlled the game in the second half, out-scoring UT by 16 to win 83-70 and sweep the MAC West favorite Rockets.
“The guys really competed when we dug ourselves a hole,” Senderoff said. “They just never stopped believing in each other.”
With this win, Kent State moves to 5-3 in the MAC (15-6 overall) and has won two straight after suffering a three-game skid through the midst of January.
Defense was the key for the Flashes after Toledo’s early shooting numbers fell back to earth.
Kent State hands suddenly seemed to be everywhere, as the Flashes had 10 steals and six blocks on the night.
Those defensive stops turned to points on the other end, as the Flashes outscored Toledo 21-4 on fast break points.
Leading the first half comeback was senior guard Antonio “Booman” Williams, who put the Flashes on his back while his teammates found their footing.
“We just needed to get some energy and some firepower,” Williams said to an ESPN reporter post-game. “Some guys came off the bench and gave us that.”
Williams scored 21 points and led the team with four steals, four assists and two blocks.
While Williams largely kickstarted the comeback, the other half of arguably the MAC’s most dangerous senior guard tandem got hot: Troy Simons would lead the team with 25 points.
Simons shot 50 percent from both the field and from 3-point range to power the scoring the Flashes needed to overcome a 21-point deficit.
“Our guards were there all night,” Assistant Coach Matt Sligh said of Williams and Simons. “They were special tonight, and we needed them to be.”
Another senior guard, C.J. Williamson, scored nine points, including a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers when Kent State was still trying to claw its way back into the game.
“Guys like C.J. giving us energy and effort off the bench really gave us a little kick-start,” Sligh said in a radio interview with Golden Flashes Radio.
Not short on effort in his own right was junior forward Danny Pippen, who led the team with 10 rebounds and two blocks alongside Williams while playing tough defense all night.
Pippen also contributed on the offensive end by scoring 16 points.
Overcoming a 21-point first half deficit takes perseverance and a lack of fear.
“It shows how mentally tough we are,” he said. “Mamba mentality, we staying together and we staying strong.”
Kent State will need to keep that mentality as it heads into a game against rival the University of Akron.
This game means more than just defending home court against a rival, as with a win the Flashes can move into a tie with Akron for second in the MAC East.
Akron comes to the M.A.C. Center Jan. 31 to open the season series.
Contact Owen MacMillan at email@example.com.