By Mike Ashcraft
Box Score (PDF)
KENT, Ohio -- The Ohio men's basketball team (8-8, 1-3 MAC) clawed back from a 12-point second-half deficit but ultimately fell to Mid-American Conference East Division rival Kent State (8-9, 2-2 MAC), 70-69, on Friday (Jan. 12) at the M.A.C. Center.
The Bobcats outscored the Golden Flashes, 38-30, over the final 20 minutes of play but were unable to protect a one-point lead with two minutes to play.
"I very clearly can see how this team can be good, but we're thirsty for a win right now, no question about it," said fourth-year head coach Saul Phillips.
Kent State took a 53-41 lead with 13:53 to go in the second half when senior guard Kevin Zabo hit a three to put the Flashes up by a game-high 12 points and force Ohio to burn a timeout. Senior guard Mike Laster (Detroit, Mich.) answered for the Bobcats with a three-pointer of his own out of the timeout, and his triple sparked a 28-15 run by Ohio over the ensuing 11:52. Junior guard/forward Gavin Block (Lincoln, Ill.) sank a three-pointer off an assist from freshman guard Teyvion Kirk (Joliet, Ill.) with 2:40 to play to even the score at 67-all. After Zabo drew a foul 31 seconds later and made the second of his two free throw attempts to put Kent State up by one, Kirk made a layup off an assist by Laster on the next possession to put the Bobcats ahead by one, 69-68, with 2:01 to play.
Sophomore guard Mitch Peterson missed a jumper on Kent State's next trip down the court, and Laster came up with the rebound for Ohio, forcing the Golden Flashes to call timeout. The Bobcats could not come up with points, though, and Peterson grabbed the defensive board for Kent State and was fouled. Peterson missed the front end of the one-and-one, and junior guard Jordan Dartis (Newark, Ohio) snatched the rebound with 1:06 to play to give Ohio another chance to pad its lead. Another missed layup by the Bobcats and a defensive rebound by junior center Adonis De La Rosa gave the Golden Flashes another opportunity, and they capitalized. De Le Rosa made a layup with 21 seconds left to put Kent State back in front by one. Laster missed a jumper with seven seconds remaining on Ohio's next possession, and the Bobcats were forced to foul Zabo with three seconds to go. Zabo intentionally missed his free throw attempt, allowing junior guard Jalen Avery to come up with the rebound for the Golden Flashes and put the game away.
The Bobcats were led by a 17-point outing by Kirk, who scored 12 of those points in the second half. He also snatched a game-high seven boards and totaled two assists and two steals in 33 minutes. Laster recorded 11 points and also added two rebounds and two assists in 36 minutes. Block posted 10 points, two rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal in 29 minutes of work. Dartis finished with 10 points, a game-high five assists and four rebounds over 36 minutes. Freshman guard Zach Butler (Spartanburg, S.C.) went a perfect 3-of-3 from the field with a trey en route to nine points in 17 minutes off of the bench.
Kent State received a game-high 24 points by Zabo off of 8-of-15 shooting -- including a 4-of-7 effort from beyond the arc. He also converted 4-of-9 free throw attempts. Zabo tied for the team lead with six rebounds and also had an assist and a steal in 33 minutes. Junior guard Jaylin Walker provided 15 points off of the bench, going 6-of-13 from the floor with a pair of threes. He also notched five rebounds and a steal in 28 minutes. De La Rosa made four of his eight shots to compile eight points and also had three rebounds and an assist in 24 minutes. Senior guard Desmond Ridenour recorded eight points off of 4-of-6 shooting in 22 minutes of work off the bench. He also recorded a rebound and an assist.
The Bobcats were plagued by 10 turnovers in the first half as Kent State took a 40-31 lead into the halftime break. Walker came off the bench for the Flashes to provide 11 points off of a 4-of-8 shooting effort that included a pair of threes. Ohio built an early edge, with the Bobcats taking advantage of a technical foul called on De La Rosa that led to four points by Dartis on one possession. A layup by graduate forward Kevin Mickle (Brooklyn, N.Y.) gave Ohio a 15-8 lead with just over 12 minutes remaining in the half. Mickle then produced three slam dunks in a three-minute span to help the Bobcats maintain the advantage at 23-19 with just over six minutes to play in the half. Walker and Kent State began to heat up, though, as the Golden Flashes outscored the Bobcats by a 21-7 count over the final 5:43, with Walker providing nine points during the run.
Six points off of two layups and a pair of made free throws by Kirk helped Ohio shave Kent State's lead down to four with just over 17 minutes to play, but a pair of treys by Zabo helped put the Flashes up by 12. The Bobcats then responded with their big second-half charge, with Dartis hitting a pair of triples and Laster, Butler and Block each converting from behind the arc to set Ohio up with a chance for a comeback win that ultimately fell short.
Ohio returns to the friendly confines of the Convocation Center to play host to MAC West Division foe Toledo next Tuesday (Jan. 16). The opening tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET. The game will be streamed live on WatchESPN and the ESPN app.