Kent State lost its second straight game of its two-game road trip. The Flashes again struggled in the first half, failing to score 30 points for the second straight game. They relied heavily on runs, but could not string together an extended period of scoring and defensive stops to counteract their poor first half. Here are five takeaways from Kent State’s 67-63 loss at Western Michigan:
1. Sophomore guard Anthony Roberts played one of his better games of the season, but a rolled ankle limited him in the second half.
He scored 17 points over the first 24 minutes of play, but an ankle injury after an assist to senior guard Antonio Williams limited him to just two points for the remainder of the game. Part of the reason he scored less was because he didn’t play for about eight minutes. Here’s an example of how easily he got to the hoop:
Roberts goes up and under for the lay in— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 18, 2020
WMU 18 pic.twitter.com/iVwCisd2Ua
After rolling his ankle on a Western Michigan defender, Roberts slapped two chairs near the end of the Kent State bench in frustration. Then he got his ankle taped in the locker room tunnel before returning to the bench.
Freshman guard Giovanni Santiago replaced him and played his best eight-minute stretch against a Division I opponent (more on that later). Roberts could have been on the bench because of the injury or because of Santiago’s play.
2. Santiago played serviceable defense and played well with Williams, sharing the responsibilities of running the offense.
Santiago scored two points on 1-for-1 shooting, adding five assists in 13 minutes. When Roberts was on the bench in the second half, Santiago helped finish off a 15-0 run that was started by Roberts to give the Flashes a 47-39 lead with 11:50 left. Here’s one of two 3-pointers Roberts hit to spark the run:
Roberts over defenders for 3! pic.twitter.com/mrWHdpe05I— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 18, 2020
Over the run, Santiago scored two points, added two assists and a steal. Here’s one of the two assists:
Danny Pippen throws down the dunk!— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 18, 2020
WMU 39 pic.twitter.com/20a8joAfIi
Santiago’s strides are the one positive takeaway from a game where Kent State struggled, specifically with most of its depth.
Roberts, Williams and Simons combined to score 21 points on 50 percent shooting. The rest of the team combined to score four points on 22 percent shooting.
3. Senior forward Philip Whittington and junior forward Danny Pippen continue to struggle.
The duo combined to score 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting. Whittington failed to make a field goal for the second straight game. Pippen scored all nine of his points in the final 14 minutes. For the second straight game both were largely non-factors.
“We have got to make sure that Phil is a piece of the offense,” Kent State assistant coach Aaron Fuss said in a postgame radio interview. “A lot of it is just having that mentality of being a little more physical, a little more aggressive whenever he is in the game.”
Pippen took a tough fading runner with under a minute left that resulted in the Broncos running off about 20 seconds before a foul sent Flowers to the line. He made both free throws, giving Western Michigan a 65-62 lead with 15 seconds left.
“We have got to do a better job of attacking the rim,” Fuss said. “We have been trying to emphasize our physicality, because we have a tendency to go off one leg and fade away in the paint.”
4. Simons usually warms up after poor shooting in the first half. Saturday he did not.
He scored five points on 29 percent shooting in the first half. He added seven points on 3-for-7 shooting in the second half.
But his biggest struggle came from the 3-point line. He shot 1-for-8 from three in the game, including 0-for-4 in the second half when he usually thrives.
“Troy is the best shooter in the league from three,” Fuss said. “He is going to come back the next game and probably make seven 3’s again.”
Simons’ defense during stretches was solid again. You could make the argument that he’s the Flashes’ best on-ball defender. He limited Western Michigan’s leading scorer Michael Flowers to 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting, but two tough, timely threes by Flowers gave the Broncos needed momentum down the stretch.
Here’s the first three:
Here’s the second:
5. Williams had another untimely turnover that greatly limited Kent State’s chances in the final minute.
Williams again closed a game with a turnover in the final minute. Last season, he had two game-winning plays, both in MAC play. In conference play this season he has two game-losing plays. Against Miami he pushed off against a defender with eight seconds left, resulting in an offensive foul. It was also his fifth foul of the game.
Rafael Cruz Jr. took the ball from Williams as he dribbled with 43 seconds left. Cruz Jr. dove on the ball, calling timeout. Western Michigan left its huddle and drained 21 seconds off the clock.
Williams and the Flashes will need to learn, or if you're an optimist, relearn how to close games. It may be a team game, but the offense begins and ends with the player who runs the offense.
Pippen’s runner was forced with a minute left with Kent State leading 62-61. He trailed the play on defense, and Western Michigan got a momentum shifting dunk to take a 63-61 lead.
Williams’ turnover helped the Broncos take a 65-62 lead. The next possession, Simons drove instead of shooting a three. He went 1-for-2 from the free throw line, which kept the Western Michigan lead at two, ultimately ending the game when the Broncos made back-to-back free throws to give them a 67-63 lead with five seconds left.
An inept ending matched a poor first half start. The Flashes scored under 30 points in the first half for the fourth time this season. They are 0-4 in such games.
At some point, with five seniors, Kent State should play a consistent stretch of basketball, but that remains to be seen in conference play.
The Flashes continue their season Jan. 21 against Northern Illinois University at the M.A.C. Center. The Huskies are 9-9, 2-3 in MAC play. They are also on a two-game losing streak after a 66-64 loss at Bowling Green Saturday afternoon.
Contact Ian Kreider at firstname.lastname@example.org.