'All it takes is four games, we’ve already got one of ‘em'
Before senior guard Troy Simons dunked the ball to give Kent State an 82-74 lead with 44.2 seconds left, the Flashes had to solve Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 zone.
Coach Rob Senderoff credited assistant coach Matt Sligh for finding the solution.
“(Sligh) recommended putting Booman (Antonio Williams) in the middle of the zone for this game,” Senderoff said. “I think we were significantly more effective with him, either along the baseline or in the middle, as opposed to up top.”
“I’ll sit here and take the heat for the bad loss in the first game. We didn’t have (Williams) where we needed him.”
Here are five takeaways from Kent State’s 86-76 win over Eastern Michigan:
Best ball movement in Mid American Conference play
The Flashes moved the ball better than any other MAC game this season. Their 18 turnovers counteracted what could’ve been a season-high scoring output.
“If we could’ve cut some of the turnovers, we could’ve had 100 tonight,” Senderoff said. “Thursday’s gonna be a completely new game, but I’m glad we had 21 assists… We should play with confidence. We should play with confidence at all times because we have a good offensive team.”
The ball movement has been something that’s plagued them throughout the season. In their first matchup, Kent State totaled 11 assists and 16 turnovers. Monday night, the Flashes’ passes were more meaningful. They regularly found cutting teammates for layups (36 points in the paint), and they scored 16 fastbreak points. Each of those totals are 14 points higher than in the first game against Eastern Michigan.
Sophomore guard Anthony Roberts had a game-high six assists and one turnover. He counteracted a less than efficient perimeter shooting performance by becoming the main facilitator. His ability to play that role well allowed Williams to play off ball, which opened up the entire offense.
Williams’ attacking holes in the zone
Williams shot 75 percent, his highest percentage of the season when taking more than five shots in a game.
“He was tremendous in the middle,” Senderoff said. “Anthony (Roberts), Troy (Simons) and Mitch (Peterson) found him in the middle all night long. That was a big part of the game.”
He regularly scored over and around 7-footer Boubacar Toure. There were at least four times he either shot a mid range jump shot over him, finished through him or went around him for a layup.
Williams’ speed and quickness helped the Flashes weather several halfcourt lulls. He helped push the tempo in the second half, and Kent State scored 12 fastbreak points because of it.
Kent State’s first half run
Williams fouled out in the first matchup with Eastern Michigan. He looked to be on a similar path, as he picked up his second foul with 8:08 left in the first half. He walked to the bench with a team-high nine points on 3-for-3 shooting.
Instead of allowing Eastern Michigan to go on a significant run to end the half, junior forward Tervell Beck and senior guard Mitch Peterson helped Kent State end the half on a 9-2 run over the final 3:37.
“That run was huge because we were trying to create space,” Pippen said. “We were just trying to keep adding on to it even though they came back, but we stuck with our plan.”
Pippen’s ability to carve out space inside
Most of Pippen’s team-high 20 points came from the free-throw line. He went 10-for-10, and the Flashes finished 20-for-22. It was their highest percentage from the free-throw line this season (min. eight free throws).
Pippen’s presence inside was a direct result of him not settling from outside. He had early success from the 3-point line, but instead of continuing to shoot 3-pointers, he drove inside. This approach resulted in off balance Eastern Michigan defenders fouling him seven times.
Pippen ended a 5-0 Eastern Michigan run that cut Kent State’s lead to six points with a 3-pointer from the right corner with 3:10 left. The shot shifted the momentum, and the Flashes were able to survive a career-high 30 points from Noah Morgan.
Pippen will need to continue to attack if the Flashes are going to make a deep MAC Tournament run.
“According to him, he can (always attack at the same level),” Senderoff said. “I took him out for 30 seconds and he was angry as could be at me. He looked really tired so I wanted to get him out until the media timeout.
Settling less in the second half
After attempting 15 3-pointers in the first half, Kent State attempted seven in the second half. The Flashes attacked the rim to the tune of 15 free-throw attempts in the final 20 minutes. They attempted more than 20 free-throws for the first time since Feb. 21 in a double overtime loss to Buffalo.
Kent State improves to 11-6 in games it attempts less than 25 3-pointers. By comparison, the Flashes are 4-3 in games they attempt 30 or more 3-pointers.
Kent State will play Ball State in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday at 9 p.m. at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The Flashes are riding momentum again as the six seed, which has led some to draw comparisons to the 2016-2017 MAC championship team, who was also a six seed.
“I think about that team all the time,” Pippen said. “I think that team from my freshman year and this team have some similar personalities. We have the same talent. All it takes is four games, we’ve already got one of ‘em.”
Contact Ian Kreider at email@example.com.