*Editor’s Note – Normally we don’t cover college hoops here at BRB, but with the MAC Tournament coming to The Q starting Thursday afternoon we thought it would be a good idea, enjoy!*
March is a magical time in the college basketball landscape. Thrilling upsets, Cinderella stories, and grueling battles between top teams in the country make up the month, and it all starts with conference tournaments.
The Mid-American Conference tournament got underway Monday night with a thrilling 116-106 overtime victory for the Kent State Golden Flashes over the visiting Central Michigan University Chippewas. The Golden Flashes were led by Jimmy Hall with 33 points, 13 boards and six assists, Jaylin Walker with 29 points and 14 rebounds, and Jalen Avery with 14 points, 16 of which came in overtime. Central Michigan was led by Marcus Keene – the country’s leading scorer – with 41 points and Braylon Rayson with 32 points.
The contest went back and forth after Central raced out to an early 17-point lead with 12:17 left in the first half. That lead was thanks in part to Keene, hitting his first four from long range as well as a floater for an early 14 points.
Kent was able to cut the CMU lead down to two late in the first half before a pair of David DiLeo 3-pointers sandwiched around two free throws made by Rayson – thanks to a Deon Edwin technical foul – and finally a Keene buzzer-beating 35-footer stretched the Chippewas’ lead back to 13 at the break.
On what changed to get Kent back into the game Hall said, “I think we just came together and said we’ve got to compile a bunch of stops together, we knew that they were going to come out firing, they’ve got some pretty good scorers but we’ve got to just keep wearing them out.”
Keene finished the first half with 22 points for CMU, followed by only six more before overtime started. “We had to take pride in not letting [Keene] score on us. We had to make him as uncomfortable as possible and force him to make acrobatic plays instead of easy 3s.” Avery said on how they slowed down Keene in the second half.
Following the game, Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff said “We didn’t start the game playing the way we’ve played over the last month. I thought we were tight and pressed a little bit” on the team’s first half. “I was actually calmer than normal and telling these guys to relax, you could see guys pressing and frustrated in the first half. Our guys were doing things they normally don’t do.” Senderoff said on his demeanor in the locker room at half time.
The teams traded baskets to start the second half to keep the CMU lead at 13 before Kent was able to go on a 10-0 run lead by Hall. Kent took the lead for the first time since the 18:44 mark of the first half when they lead 3-2 on a Walker three-pointer with 14:04 remaining. From that point on the game went back and forth with neither team taking an advantage of more than six.
As the expiration of regulation neared the teams traded big baskets from long range. First Avery hit an open shot from behind the arc on a dish from a double-teamed Hall to give the Flashes a 91-88 lead with 1:17 left. Following the made basket by Avery CMU inbounded the ball to Rayson traveled the length of the floor before finding himself in the right corner for an impressive fade-away three to tie the game and suck the life out of the arena.
The teams then traded missed shots to close out regulation.
The overtime period then started off similarly to the way the game itself did, with a deep three from Keene to give CMU the lead, the rest of the period did not go as well for the Chippewas, in part to Avery catching fire for Kent. After making Kent’s final field goal in regulation, Avery hit the next two in overtime, both from behind the arc, to give the Flashes a 97-94 lead. Once Avery’s second three-point bomb went through the net, Kent never relinquished the lead the rest of the game. The closest the Chippewas got was within two following Keene’s second three of the period. He finished overtime with 13 of CMU’s 15 points. Avery himself outscored Central in overtime, scoring 16 of Kent’s 25 points.
“The rim just gets bigger. It feels like I’m in the gym by myself just shooting.” Avery said on his five of six performance from deep on the night.”
Kent State moves on to play the University of Buffalo on Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH. The game will take place 30 minutes following the conclusion of the Ohio University-University of Toledo matchup at 6:30 PM.
Elsewhere in the MAC First Round No. 8 Eastern Michigan defeated No. 9 Northern Illinois 72-69 behind 21 from James Thomson IV and 20 from Ray Lee. They will face No. 1 Akron Thursday afternoon in Cleveland.
No. 5 Western Michigan edged out No. 12 Miami University 65-61 thanks to four players in double figures, including Tucker Haymond with 16. The Broncos face No. 4 Ball State Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals.
Lastly, the Toledo Rockets defeated the Bowling Green State University Falcons handily, 77-62 Monday night. The Rockets were led by Jonathan Williams with 18. They’ll take on the Ohio Bobcats Thursday evening.