The Kent State men's basketball team had a golden opportunity to march into St. John Arena and spoil Jim O'Brien's OSU coaching debut by beating his embattled Buckeyes Wednesday night in Columbus.
But the Golden Flashes simply couldn't put the ball in the basket.
Forced to heave bombs against Ohio State's zone defense, Kent State shot a meager 32 percent from the floor in the second half and made just 4-of-27 3-pointers overall. And the Buckeyes took full advantage of the Flashes' inaccuracy, as OSU erased an early 10-point deficit and held on down the stretch despite some incredibly inept free-throw shooting to claim a 73-67 victory in front of a vocal throng of 7,321 in Columbus.
"We let this one slip right out of our hands," said Flashes junior point guard Ed Norvell, shaking his head. "All the turnovers, all the calls that didn't go our way, and we still had a chance to win. We just missed too many open shots."
And most of them were missed badly, several of the airball variety, which Kent State coach Gary Waters had a tough time explaining.
"We actually have a pretty good 3-point shooting team," said Waters. "We just shot bad tonight ... at one point our guards were 2-of-24 from the field. But it wasn't all us. You have to give Ohio State credit, because their zone defense really caused us problems. They extended it out high to take the 3-point shot away, and when we did get open shots we seemed to rush ourselves."
The Flashes (1-1) rushed out of the gate against the injury-plagued Buckeyes (1-0), who started three new players due in part to injuries to guards Damon Stringer and Neshaun Coleman.
A rousing dunk by freshman forward Kyrem Massey put Kent State up 7-6 and ignited an 18-7 run culminated by Al Moore's 3-pointer that gave the Flashes a 23-13 lead with 11 minutes remaining in the first half.
"They played us man-up early on, and you (saw) what happened," said Norvell, who finished with 9 points and 5 assists. "But we got up 10, and they went right to that zone and never came out of it again."
That's because the Buckeyes never had a reason to.
Kent State scored just nine points in the final 11 minutes of the first half, while Ohio State chipped away at the lead behind true freshman guard Michael Redd and junior forward Jason Singleton. Singleton scored on a dunk and layup to tie the game at 27-27, then Redd hit two free throws and nailed a 3-pointer in the closing minutes to help Ohio State take a 36-32 halftime lead.
The final 10 minutes of the first half were vitally important to the Buckeyes, according to O'Brien.
"We could have easily been down 10 or 15 at halftime, so to fight back and get a lead was great," said O'Brien. "We were very concerned when we trailed by 10. I told the players at this pace we would give up 50 points in the first half. We really needed to tighten up our defense, and the last 30 minutes we did a pretty good job of that."
Kent State stormed out of the gate in the second half behind Massey, who converted two three-point plays and added a free throw to give the Flashes their last lead, 43-42, with 16:20 remaining.
But then Kent State went stone-cold.
The Flashes scored just 10 points in the next 12 minutes, while Ohio State took advantage of several long rebounds to beat Kent State down the floor.
Consecutive layups by Carlos Davis and Redd put the Buckeyes up 62-53, then Singleton used his strength to score three consecutive buckets inside that gave Ohio State a 70-57 cushion with 2:15 remaining.
The Buckeyes managed to hold on despite missing 11 consecutive free throws down the stretch at one point, as Ohio State (10-of-29) and the Flashes (11-of-21) combined to shoot an embarrassing 42 percent from the charity stripe.
Kent State also pounded the Buckeyes on the boards, 49-33. However, the shooting percentages ultimately told the tale: the Flashes shot just 38 percent, while Ohio State nailed 31-of-57 shots from the floor (54 percent).
"I can't fault our effort, because we never quit," said Waters. "We played our hearts out down the stretch, and if we could have just hit a couple of 3s we could have made things interesting.
"But we had a chance to win, and I told the players we could come in here and win. They're not any older than we are, and I don't believe they're any more talented than we are. Their upperclassmen stepped up a little stronger, and they defended a little stronger. And that was the difference in the game."
Massey finished with 20 points in just 21 minutes of action to lead the Flashes, while former Barberton High School standout Mike Perry added 10 points and 6 rebounds in 14 minutes.
Singleton finished with a game-high 23 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field, while Redd was impressive in his Buckeye debut, scoring 21 points and grabbing 9 rebounds.