Coach’s pep talk sparks turnaround at KSU

Following back-to-back losses to Ohio and Akron, the Golden Flashes appeared headed in the wrong direction.

First-year coach Rob Senderoff, however, never wavered in support of his team.

“I may be the only person around that still believes in our team, but I’m not losing faith in our team at all,” he said in the Kent-Ravenna Record Courier after the Golden Flashes’ 84-75 loss to Akron on Jan. 21.

Senderoff met with his veteran players, seniors Justin Greene, Michael Porrini, Carlton Guyton and Justin Manns and junior Randal Holt following the Akron game. He delivered a short message.

“You have 22 practices and 13 games left,” Senderoff said, according to the Record Courier. “I’ll be here next year. Some of you won’t. I used to say this to the seniors when I was an assistant: Don’t say hello when it’s time to say goodbye.”

Following their coach’s talk, the Golden Flashes said hello to blowout wins over Northern Illinois and Toledo. The strong week raised Kent State’s record to 14-6 overall, 4-3 in the Mid-American Conference through Jan. 29. The Golden Flashes trailed first-place Akron by two games in the East Division, but they still have a chance at securing a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

As far as the players are concerned, the key to playing well is simple.

“If we get back to Kent State basketball, which is grinding, tough, hardnosed, do whatever it takes to win, we’ll be fine,” Greene said in the Record Courier. “I know we are going to do it.”

The Golden Flashes are taking advantage of the soft part of their schedule. Kent State rolled to a 90-56 home win over Northern Illinois and followed that with a 77-61 victory at Toledo. The Huskies and Rockets were fighting to get out of the bottom of the MAC’s West Division.

NOTES, QUOTES

Rotation gets tightened

–Coach Rob Senderoff shortened his rotation against Toledo. He went with only eight players after using nine or 10 players for most of the season. Starters Justin Greene (32), Randal Holt (31) and Carlton Guyton (33) all played more than 30 minutes, while Michael Porrini played 25 minutes. Chris Evans played 26 minutes off the bench. Senderoff hasn’t been pleased with the play of some of his reserves, so he could stick with this strategy in upcoming games.

–After Kent State allowed an average of 86 points against Bowling Green, Ohio and Akron, Senderoff questioned his team’s intensity on defense. His players obviously got the message. Kent State held Northern Illinois to 56 points and allowed only 61 against Toledo. A look at the numbers shows how good the defense has been. The Golden Flashes held their last two opponents through Jan. 29 to a combined 37 percent shooting. Northern Illinois and Toledo also combined to hit just three of 18 3-pointers.

–Kent State turned 19 turnovers into 28 points against Toledo. The Golden Flashes forced turnovers on five consecutive possessions in a three-minute stretch to begin the second half. The barrage turned a two-point lead into a 13-point advantage and gave Kent State control of the game. Three of the turnovers resulted in dunks by Carlton Guyton, Chris Evans and Patrick Jackson.

BY THE NUMBERS: 27 — Kent State’s victory over Toledo on Jan. 28 was its 27th consecutive win over a Mid-American Conference West Division opponent.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I think we just have to get back into the gym, practice and get after each other. That’s the only way we are going to get better. Get after each other, everybody challenge each other and everybody hold each other accountable.” — F Justin Greene, in the Kent-Ravenna Record Courier, on the keys for the Golden Flashes the rest of the season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK’S GAMES:

–at Central Michigan, Jan. 31

KEY MATCHUPS: The Golden Flashes face a long trip to Mount Pleasant, Mich., but they will be heavy favorites to win their third straight game. Central Michigan is near the bottom of the conference’s West Division. Kent State’s backcourt will be challenged by guard Trey Zeigler, whose father Ernie, coaches the Chippewas.

–vs. Western Michigan, Feb. 4

KEY MATCHUPS: Both teams are strong defensively, so this should be a low-scoring battle. The Broncos rely on patience in executing their half-court offense and getting the ball down low to their strong frontcourt players. Justin Greene will have his hands full with Western Michigan’s deep front line.

FUTURES MARKET: Junior F Chris Evans could be a difference-maker for Kent State down the stretch. The junior-college transfer had the best game of his career against Toledo on Jan. 28. He scored 23 points, had six rebounds, three assists, four steals and one blocked shot in 26 minutes. Evans made nine of his 10 field-goal attempts, including all three of his 3-point attempts. He was averaging 15.6 points and shooting 72.7 percent (32 of 44) in the past five games through Jan. 29.

PLAYER NOTES

–Senior G Michael Porrini scored 14 points and added eight assists, three rebounds, two steals and four rebounds against Toledo on Jan. 28.

–Senior F Justin Greene scored 14 points and had five rebounds against the Rockets.

–Junior G Carlton Guyton hit three 3-pointers against Toledo. Through Jan. 29, Kent State was 11-2 when he had made more than one 3-pointer in a game.