Kent State's perimeter shooting nullified an impressive defensive performance in its first game against Ball State on Feb. 4.
The Flashes shot 1-for-20 from three, which was their worst 3-point shooting performance since Dec. 21, 2016.
The Flashes couldn’t have played much worse, and only lost 62-54. The Cardinals went on a 26-6 run to end the first half, and the Flashes struggled to respond in the final 20 minutes. They shot under 35 percent and scored 26 points.
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Kent State had 10 assists and 11 turnovers while failing to initiate its halfcourt offense. The Flashes’ main facilitator, senior guard Antonio Williams finished with more turnovers than assists. Sophomore guard Anthony Roberts and senior forward Philip Whittington were the only Kent State players to play at least 20 minutes and not commit a turnover. They were also the only two Flashes in double-digits.
The lack of fast break scoring didn’t allow Williams or senior guard Troy Simons to get into a rhythm. Williams excels at driving downhill during fast break opportunities, while Simons knocks down transition 3-pointers. The two combined for 12 points on 4-for-17 shooting and five turnovers.
Settling less from the perimeter
Kent State’s offense devolved into isolation hero ball featuring Williams, Simons, Roberts and junior forward Danny Pippen. This approach was common early in the season, but after this game it became less of a problem.
Since its first game against Ball State, the Flashes have 14 assists per game and are averaging 75.1 points per game.
Using Williams off ball
Although Ball State doesn’t use a zone, coach Rob Senderoff may use Williams in a similar fashion as Monday’s game against Eastern Michigan. Using Williams off the ball could allow for more flexibility.
Roberts has proven he can run the offense. He’s finished with five or more assists in two of his last three games. Simons can also facilitate in spurts. In his last nine games, he has a 2:1 assists/turnover ratio.
Williams will likely still bring the ball up the floor the majority of the time, but it’ll be interesting to see how much they use him as a cutter to draw multiple defenders inside.
Continuing the current effort
The Flashes were outrebounded in six of their first nine MAC games. After a home loss to Northern Illinois Senderoff sent his team a message by benching all of his starters at Buffalo.
Since the loss to Ball State, the Flashes have outrebounded opponents in five of their last nine games. They’re 3-2 in those games. There’s been no shortage of effort during the last third of the season, as each game’s been decided by points or less.
Kent State’s limited opponents to 11.1 fast break points per game in its last nine games. The Flashes have several chase down blocks over this period. Here’s one of them:
9:54 1H | Kent State 20, EMU 13— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) March 9, 2020
Danny. Pippen. 🚫 pic.twitter.com/PXDO4CKnzo
Kent State’s 9-9 MAC record is a clear indication of its inconsistency. The Flashes have seemed to find a solution to this inconsistency in recent weeks. They’ve scored 70 or more points in six of their last nine games since playing Ball State. They’re 4-2 over that stretch, with both losses coming by seven points or less.
When the offense scores over 70 points in MAC play this season, Kent State’s 9-3. By comparison the Flashes are 1-6 when they score less than 70 points.
Ball State leads the MAC in scoring defense, allowing 62.5 points per game. If Kent State can score at least 70 points, its chances of winning are much greater.
Kent State will play Ball State Thursday at 9 p.m. at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Ian Kreider is a sports reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.