Kent State would have been the sixth seed regardless of Friday night’s outcome. The Flashes’ main concern laid elsewhere.
“Loose as a goose, man,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “I have never cared less about a loss in my nine years of coaching.”
The Flashes were still an Antonio “Booman” Williams 3-pointer away from overtime. Here are five takeaways from Kent State’s 79-76 loss at Akron:
Sophomore guard Anthony Roberts’ return
Roberts started the game 1-for-5 with all of his attempts coming from three. In the second half, he attacked, going 3-for-4 in the first 16 minutes. He scored nine of Kent State’s first 24 second-half points.
“Hopefully [his play tonight] can help him propel for the MAC Tournament,” Senderoff said.
He looked near-100 percent for the entire game, playing a team-high 35 minutes. Over the last four minutes, he shot 2-for-6.
He also finished with a team-high three assists. His passing, shooting and slashing ability will be a valuable asset on Monday.
Senior guard CJ Williamson’s continued absence
The Flashes’ sixth man sat at the far end of the bench in a sweatshirt and sweatpants for the second straight game.
“No, CJ’s not gonna play on Monday,” Senderoff said. “I don’t think he’s gonna play Monday and I don’t think he’s gonna play at all, but we’ll see.”
In Williamson’s absence freshman guard Giovanni Santiago will play more. It was the fourth time he played more than five minutes in a game since conference play started.
Williamson’s defense on both speedy guards and longer wing players will be missed, but getting Santiago crucial minutes will help propel the Flashes for seasons to come.
Santiago’s extended minutes
Santiago’s presence again helped Kent State play at a faster pace for the second straight game, but limiting Williams’ and Simons’ minutes didn’t allow the offense to garner the same results as Tuesday night.
“We’ll see [how much he plays]; I don’t have a crystal ball for Monday,” Senderoff said.
Although plus/minus statistics don’t provide the full scope, Santiago finished with a game-worst -14. He struggled at times defensively as he closed out late on a few Akron 3-pointers in the first half.
“Our plus/minus with him in the game wasn’t good, but I thought he competed,” Senderoff said. “I thought he showed some moxie, for lack of a better word; I thought he played good. I wish at the end I looked at his plus/minus and it wasn’t -14 because I might feel a little better because I thought he played pretty good.”
He played better in the second half, as Senderoff staggered his minutes with Simons and Williams more than previously. This approach allowed for a different offensive look than Tuesday.
Santiago filled the role well, even making two free-throw attempts with 3.9 seconds left to cut the lead to one. Although he tried to miss the second attempt because Kent State did not have any timeouts left.
Keeping minutes down for starters
Keeping Pippen and Williams fresh for Monday played a factor in Senderoff’s decision to keep their minutes lower than average.
“Booman [Williams] played 33 [minutes];he had been playing 40,” Senderoff said. “Troy [Simons] only played 27; he had been playing 40. I had made a commitment to not play Danny [Pippen] 30 minutes, and I got close. I was counting them.”
Williams’ general fatigue after playing 35 minutes or more in six consecutive games and Pippen’s nagging knee injury were both likely considered in the decision. Williams played 33 minutes and Pippen played exactly 30 minutes, as they combined to score 25 points on 10-for-30 shooting from the field.
Least turnovers since Dec. 21 against Hampton.
Kent State protected the ball well, which is a promising sign for the viability of Santiago next week. The freshman guard turned the ball over one time on a pass to Pippen with 2:12 left in the first half.
The Flashes’ almost 2:1 turnover ratio could be a promising sign for Monday’s game. The improved ball movement paired with Santiago’s recent minute jump has positively affected the offense. Williams, Simons and Pippen returning to the 35-minute threshold will give an already thriving Kent State offense even more opportunities on Monday.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Senderoff said. “We just need to stay as committed to each other as we have the last four or five games.”
Ian Kreider is a sports reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.