With 11 seconds to play and down by one, the Kent State men’s basketball team was handed a golden opportunity when a Miami University inbound was carelessly deflected out of bounds.
Senior guard Antonio Williams arced an inbound pass to sophomore guard Anthony Roberts who immediately returned it to him. Williams drove hard and separated from his defender, but that separation was called an offensive foul.
Williams fouled out on that charge and senior guard Troy Simons fouled out on the inbound, giving Miami two free throws that were turned into a three-point lead.
Despite it all, Kent State still had a chance to tie the game, but Anthony Roberts’ final shot would fall wide right and the Flashes dropped their first in-conference game.
Kent State is now 13-4 and falls to 3-1 in the Mid-American Conference, leaving Akron in the East division driver seat early in MAC play.
Costly late fouls were a microcosm of Kent State’s struggles all game and caused a massive comeback to fall just short.
Kent State scored only 21 points in the first half, the Flashes’ fewest points in the first half since a Feb. 2016 game, also at Miami.
That deficit would balloon to as much as 17 just over two minutes into the second half, but then Kent State seemed to flip some kind of switch and clawed back into the game.
“[After the half] we were smarter with the ball, we moved the ball more, competed harder and just had an edge,” assistant coach Matt Sligh said in a radio interview postgame. “Our guys kept fighting and competed the way they should have from the tip.”
That second half surge was led by a career game from Simons who scored 24, his most points as a Flash, on 6-11 3-point shooting before he fouled out.
Roberts was next in scoring, putting up 19 including three 3-pointers of his own.
Sligh lamented Kent State’s inability to lock down on defense and use that scoring to take the lead.
“We hit 14 threes and lost,” he said. “If you make 14 threes, shooting was not the issue.”
The Flashes’ defensive struggles and foul trouble went hand-in-hand, as Kent State seemed incapable of not fouling and continuously sent Miami to the line.
The Redhawks capitalized and scored 23 points on 35 FT’s, compared to just eight points on 15 trips to the line for Kent State.
Along with giving Miami points, those fouls also kept Kent State’s scoring leader Williams on the bench for much of the second half.
Williams, who was coming off a career high 23 points against Central Michigan, found himself in foul trouble with 17:52 left to play and would finish the game with five points, his worst showing since last season.
Williams also gave up seven turnovers, but Sligh denied sickness or injury being a factor.
“Booman (Williams) was not sick, he just didn’t play well,” Sligh said.
The idea that Williams was sick may have come from the fact that senior forward Philip Whittington most certainly is, as he continues to see limited time while recovering from the flu.
Whittington is the Flashes’ man in the paint and his only playing 12 minutes was felt on both ends of the court.
Junior forward Danny Pippen again stepped up to try and control the paint, pulling in a team high eight rebounds to go along with 12 points which included a clutch three to keep the Flashes in the game late.
Sligh said the run that Kent State made in the second half was impressive, but the hole they had dug early was simply too much to overcome.
“[Miami] out-toughed us, they competed harder and they wanted it more,” he said. “You cannot give up a 17-point lead and expect to win.”
Kent State will remain on the road against Western Michigan University this Saturday, Jan. 18.
Contact Owen MacMillan at email@example.com.