It was never said in the nearly 20 minutes of postgame interviews, but the word that hung over Ohio’s 89-79 loss to Kent State on Saturday was the one no coach or player ever wants to hear.
The Golden Flashes punked the Bobcats in the lane and sent a message that OU isn’t ready to compete in the MAC’s upper reaches. Kent State (6-3, 3-2 MAC) held a gaudy 45-21 rebounding edge, dominated in second-chance points (18-5) and owned the paint in every sense of the word. The Flashes outscored Ohio (7-6, 3-4 MAC) 50-22 in paint points.
All of which is anathema for OU head coach Jeff Boals, a blue-collar player who preaches effort and work ethic.
“We got to get tougher,” Boals said. “To a man, you have to look yourself in the mirror and get back to work.”
Role players Tervell Beck (18 points) and Malique Jacobs (14 points) had big days for KSU. Lead guard Michael Nuga scored 10 of his 16 points in the first half, while leading scorer Danny Pippen netted 20 of his team-high 22 points in the second half.
The Flashes shot 57.4 percent overall and simply shrugged off big days for Ohio standouts Jason Preston (23 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds) and Ben Vander Plas (24 points, career-high five 3-pointers).
Ohio led just once, at 3-0, and never got closer than eight points after Kent State closed the first half with an 11-2 spurt for a 40-26 halftime lead. The Bobcats missed their final seven shots of the half, and hit just 1 of 11 going into the break.
In the first 20 minutes, Kent State held a 26-6 rebounding edge and had more offensive rebounds (10) than OU had total boards. The tone was set, and the game – essentially – was over.
“Just got to rebound, that’s all it is,” said Vander Plas, who had 19 points in the second half. “It’s unacceptable. You’re not going to win any games when that happens.”
Preston had seven points, no rebounds and just two assists at the break. He turned it up a notch in the second half, but OU never made a serious run at the lead.
“We can’t let that happen,” Preston said. “Us starters, we weren’t ready. That’s on us.
“That won’t happen again.”
OU found some hot streaks from long-range in the second half, but every time the Bobcats cut the margin to single digits Pippen was there to stop the momentum.
The loss dropped Ohio to seventh in the MAC standings, and the ‘Cats are a combined 1-4 against the teams ahead of them in the standings. OU knew what was coming on Saturday, and was either ill-equipped or unprepared to do much about it.
Neither possibility is a good sign for Ohio, which will head to DeKalb on Tuesday for a rematch against Northern Illinois (2-10, 1-6 MAC). The Huskies nearly upset the Bobcats (a 76-73 Ohio win) back on Jan. 5.
“The game came down to them imposing their will on the boards,” Boals said. “Now we have to answer the bell.”