Kent State has struggled to do anything consistently — scoring, defending, rebounding, staying out of foul trouble and a lack of free throws have each marred a 3-0 start in Mid-American Conference play. The Flashes have lost three straight games, and a combination of the above have each impacted the outcome of each loss.
Tuesday night, defending, rebounding and a lack of free throws negated junior forward Danny Pippen’s best game in a month. Here are five takeaways from Kent State’s 76-69 loss to Northern Illinois:
1. The Flashes lacked effort to end the first half and that seeped into their second half performance.
Kent State’s inability to get a stop in the final four minutes of the first half encapsulated the team's lack of effort over the entire game. Northern Illinois went on an 11-2 run to take a 41-33 halftime lead.
“There’s lots of teams that struggle to score, but they’ll still guard,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “The two games on the road, our defense at the end of the game was not good. Tonight the end of the first half was bad.”
The Flashes were outrebounded 45-28 and 26-12 in the second half.
“We made a run, but there were defensive rebounds that we had to get (them), and we couldn’t get (them).”
Kent State’s backcourt, namely senior guard Antonio Williams, held the MAC’s leading scorer Eugene German, who averages 20 points per game, to 17 points on 4-for-13 shooting. He added nine points from the line to boost his stats in the final minutes, but the Flashes contained him for the most part.
They did not contain Darius Beane, who scored 14 points and grabbed five offensive rebounds.
“He had five offensive rebounds, and he’s a 6’1” guard [actually listed at 6’3”],” Senderoff said.
Senderoff implemented a full-court press for the final 10 minutes. Initially, it was successful, helping the Flashes cut into the lead, but eventually it led to open layups, dunks and free throws for Northern Illinois.
“We were telling these guys that if the press was broken to foul them on the ground,” Senderoff said. “But we didn’t do it.”
“There’s a lot of stuff [the coaches] are communicating, and it’s going in one ear and out the other. That’s a problem. I’m not used to that. I’m used to guys that, I don’t want to say that they take everything I say as gospel because that’s not true either, but when we say, ‘Hey, when [the ball] crosses half court to foul,’ [the opposing team’s] not getting a dunk [they foul]. There have been too many breakdowns."
2. Players continue to settle for contested jump shots early in the shot clock instead of moving the ball.
This has been a problem in every conference loss this season. A couple players chuck up ill-advised shots with plenty of time left on the shot clock instead of passing. That was one of the bigger problems in Tuesday’s loss. Senior guards Antonio Williams and Troy Simons combined to shoot 5-for-20, while sophomore guard Anthony Roberts shot 3-for-10. Roberts and Simons shot 2-for-13 from three, combining to score 12 points.
According to Sports Reference, Kent State's top five scorers lead the MAC in two-point field goals attempted (30 attempts per game). That would make you think they would also be near the top of the conference in free throw attempts per game. That’s not the case. Through five MAC games, they have attempted 73 free throws, the second-fewest attempts in the conference.
3. Pippen could be hitting another hot streak offensively.
He scored 15 points or more in seven of the first 13 games of the season. In those seven games he shot 50.3 percent from the field. He shot exactly 50 percent Tuesday night and looked unstoppable in the first half. He scored 13 of Kent State’s first 24 points in the first 13 minutes of the game.
If he can rediscover his rhythm from non-conference games, the Flashes could snap their losing streak Friday.
Here is an example of what Pippen can do on both ends of the court:
2H 11:32 | NIU 51, Kent State 43— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 22, 2020
Danny Pippen takes another in! He leads the Flashes scoring with 15 points so far! pic.twitter.com/oTer2zZ32S
1H 2:16 | NIU 36, Kent State 33— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 22, 2020
Danny Pippen shuts it down! 🚫 pic.twitter.com/i6ctaNpoBs
4. Kent State’s lack of free throws this season has greatly limited its offense.
The Flashes attempted two free throws in the first half in Tuesday night’s loss. That is not a winning formula. They added 13 attempts in the second half, shooting a lackluster 8-for-13. They shot seven free throws in the final two minutes.
5. The only other bright spot from the loss was senior guard CJ Williamson, who had a season-high 14 points.
Williamson played his most efficient game, making 71.4 percent of his shot attempts. His 5-0 run midway through the second half cut the Northern Illinois lead to 55-53. He scored two more points, but his spark off the bench could be something moving forward.
Here’s the dunk that cut it to a one possession game:
2H 8:57 | NIU 55, Kent State 53— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 22, 2020
CJ Williamson with the DUNK! Back-to-back points from Williamson help cut down the NIU lead to just two points! pic.twitter.com/e79LdHtjC8
The potential depth of Kent State has been a talking point this season, but the second unit has eclipsed 15 points in a game just one time in conference play. Funny enough, that came in Tuesday night’s loss, as Williamson’s 14 points carried the group to 18 points total.
Kent State will play at Buffalo on Friday at 6:30 p.m. The Bulls are 13-6 and 4-2 in MAC play. They are riding a four-game win streak after beating Western Michigan 90-79 on Tuesday night.
“We’re on the down slope,” Senderoff said. “Let’s hope it’s the bottom of that down slope, but you don’t know. That really is going to come down to how these guys respond to this adversity. We have not responded well (so far).”
Contact Ian Kreider at email@example.com.