The Kent State men’s basketball team had led by as much as 14 in the second half against Central Michigan University, but that lead seemed to slip away in the waning minutes of the game.
With 2:43 left to play, the Flashes were only up by one, and it took a strong team effort to fend off the team that eliminated them in last year’s Mid-American Conference tournament.
In the end, Kent State won 79-73 to move to 13-3 (3-0 MAC) on the season.
“We couldn’t put them away, and they deserve a lot of credit for that,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “It’s always a tough matchup because of how fast they play, but at the end (of the game) we made enough plays to maintain the lead.”
Senior guard Antonio Williams said he knows Central Michigan well, as he played at Indian Hills Community College with CMU forward Rob Montgomery and guard Devontae Lane.
“You can have a 10 point lead and it can be gone real quick, and we had one that was gone real quick,” senior guard Antonio Williams said. “That’s a good, hard-fought team that we played, and teams like that don’t just go away.”
This game was personal for Williams, not only because he played former teammates, but also because he struggled against CMU in the MAC tournament last year, scoring only five points.
“It was extra special,” Williams said. “Towards the end of the game I told them ‘Yeah we got y’all this time’ so it was fun to finally get our legs back.”
His performance in this game was nothing like last season, as Williams led the Flashes in scoring with a career-high 23 points and only one turnover.
“(Williams) played a really good floor game,” Senderoff said. “Then he played close to 38 minutes and, with how fast they play, to still have enough in the tank to make some plays late in the game; I think that says a lot about his toughness as a player.”
Alongside Williams, several players had to step up, partially to replace missing senior forward Philip Whittington, who was out with the flu.
Starting in place of Whittington was junior forward Trevell Beck, who did not learn he would start until the morning of the game.
“As we were going through scouting to get prepared for the game I noticed I was in (with the starters),” Beck said. “But I’m just looking forward to play, that’s all. I don’t really care if I start or not.”
Beck played well in his first start for the Flashes, scoring eight points on 4-4 shooting and adding seven rebounds.
Williams talked about how the team was able to adjust so well to missing one of its starters.
“I am fine going out there and playing with any of these guys, because I know they are going to compete,” he said.
Junior forward Danny Pippen had a tough night offensively, going 2-9 from the field and giving up four turnovers, but stepped up in a big way on the boards in Whittington’s absence.
Pippen lead the team with 14 rebounds, which was twice as much as anyone on the floor for either team, and took advantage of free throw opportunities to finish with nine points.
Pippen was not the only player to struggle offensively, and the whole team seemed to have slowed down to start the second half.
“In the first half we moved the ball and we had a lot of assists,” Senderoff said. “(But in) the second half we were just holding the ball and trying to make some plays that weren’t there or being loose with the basketball. So those assists became turnovers and those turnovers became baskets for Central.”
But, the turnover plagued offense led by Williams was supplanted by a 13-point game from senior guard Troy Simons, who shot 50 percent (3-6) from 3-point range, and 12-point game from sophomore guard Anthony Roberts, who also knocked down a trio of 3-pointers.
The Flashes’ bench contributed 13 points, spearheaded by two senior guards in Mitch Peterson and C.J. Williamson, who both also played crucial defense.
Freshman guard Gio Santiago also came off the bench, and though he only scored three points, they came on a 3-point shot that sparked a major first half run for Kent State.
“Everybody has gotta contribute,” Senderoff said. “Mitch was in there late he made some big plays, C.J. was in late and Gio gave us some great minutes. It’s a team win.”
That production off the bench will continue to be crucial going forward, and the Flashes will hope to have Whittington back for their next game.
Kent State travels to Oxford, Ohio to continue conference play against the Miami Redhawks on Tuesday.
Contact Owen MacMillan at email@example.com.