The Kent State men’s basketball team came out strong against Northern Illinois University in its first game back at home after a two loss road trip.
The Flashes led 16-6 with just under seven minutes, but then NIU began to close the gap.
The Huskies’ shooters got hot, going 6-8 from 3 in the first half, and Kent State could not defend or respond offensively.
With 4:26 left in the half, Northern Illinois took its first lead of the night, and from that point outscored the Flashes 14-7 to take an eight-point lead into halftime.
A second half run fell short, and Kent State would never retake the lead.
This loss is the third in a row for Kent State [13-6, 3-3 Mid American Conference], and the team’s first loss at home.
Coach Rob Senderoff said his team played well to start the game, but did not respond when hit with adversity.
“We started the game great,” Senderoff said. “We were moving the ball, we were getting stops, we were flying around and then it didn’t continue. You can’t turn this thing on and off and then just expect these teams to go away. All the things you need to do, you have to do the entire game.”
One of those things Kent State did not do was rebound, as the Flashes were outrebounded by 17.
This became a major issue defensively, as NIU grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and turned those into 16 second chance points.
NIU’s shooting of 75 percent from 3-point range in the first half was hard to predict or counter, but even after that shooting stopped Kent State was unable to stop NIU from protecting its lead.
“You have got to guard,” Senderoff said. “Even when things are not going well offensively, you have to be able to [guard]. And right now we are not doing that.”
Senderoff emphasized the blame was not on individual players, but the team as a whole and the upperclassmen.
“We have to play better as a team, that is the bottom line,” he said. “We have got to compete harder and be a little more disciplined defensively. We have got to find a way to dig ourselves out of this hole.”
The hole Senderoff talked about is the three-game losing streak Kent State currently finds itself on, after starting MAC play 3-0.
The issues in those games have been difficult to pin down and all the games have been close up until the very end.
This game was similar, as the Flashes stuck around behind the scoring of junior forward Danny Pippen, who led the team with 18 points as well as with nine rebounds.
Other Flashes scoring in double digits were senior guard CJ Williamson, with a season-high 14 points, and senior guard and leading scorer Antonio Williams with 13.
Upperclassmen led the team on the stat sheet, but Senderoff said his juniors and seniors need to step up and take more ownership of team effort and discipline.
“Honestly it starts with our upperclassmen,” he said. “Our guys have to look inward and say ‘okay, I am going to do some things differently so this doesn’t happen. I am going to change a little bit of what I’m doing to make sure we don’t lose.’”
The Flashes are still well within the front half of conference play and are only two games back in the MAC East.
Kent State faces a tough test this Friday as it travels to Buffalo [13-6, 4-2 MAC] to face the 2019 MAC Champion.
Contact Owen MacMillan at email@example.com.