KENT, Ohio — The one thing the Bobcats could count on all season let them down on Tuesday night.
Kent State caught fire late, and used offensive rebounds throughout, to down Ohio — 78-73 — inside the M.A.C. Center. The Golden Flashes (20-8, 9-6 MAC) got big finishes from senior guards Jaylin Walker and Jalen Avery, and turned a whopping 21 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points.
“It’s disappointing,” said Ohio head coach Saul Phillips, whose team has lost seven of its last eight games.
“It was a pretty good effort in a lot of areas.”
Walker had a game-high 23 points for the Flashes, and did most of his damage late. He scored 13 points inside the final six minutes. Avery, likewise, scored all six of his points in the final six minutes.
Antonio Williams added 15 points for KSU and Akiean Frederick had 10 points and nine rebounds — eight offensive boards — off the bench.
The loss was the fifth in the last six meetings against Kent State for Ohio (12-15, 4-11 MAC). The Bobcats haven’t won in Kent since Jan. 8, 2014.
With one more loss, Ohio will be locked into a road game for the first round of the 2019 MAC Tournament. Even if the ‘Cats win out, Ohio will be locked into a road game with either one more win by either Akron or Miami.
Sophomore forward Jason Carter had 20 points to lead Ohio on what was one its best offensive nights of the season. The Bobcats shot 52.9 percent overall, and continually dissected KSU’s traps for open jumpers and layups.
Ohio assisted on 22 of 27 made field goals and had six players with eight points or more, and shot 44.4 percent from 3-point range.
Freshman PG Jason Preston flirted with a triple double — 11 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and wasn’t charged with a turnover in a second straight game. Senior forward Doug Taylor hit 5 of 7 shots for 12 points, and sophomore guard Teyvion Kirk had 11 points, four rebounds and three assists.
After an early funk, the Bobcats settled in offensively. The Flashes led by 12 — 24-12 — with just over eight minutes left in the half but Ohio trimmed the deficit to 35-31 at the break.
Back-to-back 3s from Gavin Block and Preston got Ohio on track, and Carter capped the strong finish with a pump fake, reset, and then made 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer.
Walker had just five points on nine shots at the half, but Williams already had 11 of his 15 in the book. Preston, Carter and Kirk had seven each for Ohio.
Ohio took it’s largest lead, at 61-57, with 6:06 left after Connor Murrell hit a left-side 3-pointer. At that point, the Flashes had hit just 3 of 13 3-pointers.
But on the next trip, Walker banked in angle 3-pointer from the right side. After a Cowart turnover, Avery bagged a 3 from the wing and the Flashes were back in front 63-61.
Ohio took the lead twice more, and tied it again 71-71, but KSU had found much-needed rhythm at that point. After starting 3 of 13, the Flashes hit 5 of their final 7 3-pointers — including Avery’s critical make with 25.4 seconds left that made it a four-possession game.
Ohio’s offense looked fluid, crisp and dynamic as it largely sidestepped the issues it had in the first meeting with KSU this season.
The assist-to-made-FGs ratio was as high as its been all season. Ohio exercised restraint on 3-point attempts, and had another great percentage (44.4) from the arc for a second straight game.
Jason Preston was tremendous. Playing with pace, and confidence, he outplayed the veteran Avery throughout much of the contest. He had several beauties, in terms of passes, and in some ways it was his strongest offensive game of the season.
Carter was terrific and excelled when he didn’t have to create much off the dribble. He hit all three of his 3-point attempts, made 7 of 9 overall, and had the type of super-efficient game Phillips envisioned more of when he was putting this offense together.
Doug Taylor had 12 points in a second straight game, and finished much better around the rim.
Both Teyvion Kirk and Connor Murrell (eight points) had good stretches. Both cut down turnovers, exercised good judgement and could use their efforts as building blocks for the future.
There was one bad thing that overshadowed everything else Ohio did on Tuesday. The Bobcats didn’t protect the defensive glass.
Kent State had more offensive rebounds than defensive boards — 21 to 18 — and used those to pummel the Bobcats 23-4 in second-chance points. You can count on one hand the number of times offensive rebounds have really hurt Ohio this season, and Tuesday’s outcome is the first truly disastrous defensive glass effort of the season.
Ohio did miss seven free throws, and had seven first-half turnovers. But the Bobcats had just four giveaways in the second half.
Ohio contested shots most of the night, but put-backs and second chances cost them the chance at a road win.
Ohio will be on the road for its last true road game of the regular season on Saturday, with a 2 p.m. start at Akron.
The Bobcats are now 1-7 in conference road games, and 2-9 on the road overall.
Ohio will wrap up the regular-season next week with a pair of home games against Buffalo (Tuesday) and Miami (Friday).
The Zips lost 77-64 at Buffalo on Tuesday night. Akron 15-12, 7-7 MAC) beat the Bobcats in Athens — 65-53 — on Feb. 2.
Around the MAC
Bowling Green dropped a second straight game with an 82-69 home loss to Miami. Central Michigan won its fourth in a row with a 77-66 win at Eastern Michigan. Toledo kept Ball State’s season mired with an 80-72 win in Muncie. And NIU broke out of a funk with a 70-65 win against visiting Western Michigan.
With three games to play, Buffalo (13-2 MAC) now leads BG (11-4) by two full games for the regular-season title and the No. 1 seed for the MAC Tournament. Toledo (10-5) and CMU (9-6) are currently slotted as the three and four seeds, with Kent State (9-6) points to potentially break in.
Akron (7-8), EMU (7-8) and Miami (7-8) are stacked up in the middle tier.
NIU (6-10) is the current ninth-seed, and Ball State (5-10) is 10th. Ohio (4-11) is 11th, and WMU (2-12) will be the 12th-seed.
Kent State 78, Ohio 73
OHIO 73 (12-15, 4-11 MAC)
Jason Carter 7 3-4 20, Doug Taylor 5 2-5 12, Jason Preston 3 4-5 11, Teyvion Kirk 5 1-2 11, Antonio Cowart Jr. 0 0-0 0, Ben Vander Plas 1 0-0 2, Gavin Block 3 0-0 9, Connor Murrell 3 1-2 8; TOTALS 27 11-18 73; 3-point goals — 8-18 (Carter 3-3, Block 3-4, Murrell 1-1, Preston 1-4, Kirk 0-1, Cowart 0-2, Vander Plas 0-3).
KENT STATE 78 (20-8, 9-6 MAC)
Philip Whittington 4 1-2 9, Jalen Avery 2 0-0 6, C.J. Williamson 0 0-0 0, Antonio Williams 6 2-2 15, Jaylin Walker 8 3-6 23, Akieann Frederick 5 0-1 10, Anthony Roberts 4 0-1 8, Mitch Peterson 3 0-0 7; TOTALS 32 6-12 78; 3-pint goals — 8-20 (Walker 4-9, Avery 2-4, Peterson 1-1, Williams 1-2, Williamson 0-1, Frederick 0-1, Roberts 0-2).
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goal — Ohio 27-51 (.529), 3-point goals 8-18 (.444); Kent St. 32-73 (.438), 3-point goals 8-20 (.400); Free throws — Ohio 11-18 (.611), KSU 6-12 (.500); Rebounds — Ohio 33/9 offensive (Preston 8); KSU 39/21 offensive (Frederick 9); Assists — Ohio 22 (Preston 8), KSU 17 (Roberts 4); Steals — Ohio 3, KSU 4 (Williamson 2); Blocks — Ohio 4 (Taylor 2), KSU 2; Turnovers — Ohio 11, KSU 5; Personal fouls — Ohio 11, KSU 14; Attendance — 2,891; Technical fouls — None.