CLEVELAND-During a break in the first half of a Mid-American Conference quarterfinals game at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday, one Ohio cheerleader somersaulted right into another. The Bobcats weren't as clumsy on the court, as they knocked off top-seeded Kent State, 81-64.
The Bobcats used the hot shooting of 6-foot-2 junior guard Armon Bassett to take a 40-24 lead into halftime. Bassett scored 18 of his game-high 38 points in the first half. He finished the night 9-of-17 from the floor and a perfect 16-for-16 from the free throw line.
"I go into every game thinking I'm going to shoot like that," Bassett said.
The Bobcats shot 55.6-percent in the first half and finished the game at 50-percent. Meanwhile, Kent State couldn't buy a basket. They hit on 8-of-32 shots in the first half and were even worse from behind the arc, hitting just 1-of-10 3-point attempts. The Golden Flashes finished the game 24-of-67, but were just 3-of-20 from behind the arc.
Kent State's six seniors combined to shoot 15-of-45, but 3-point shooters Mike McKee and Tyree Evans were just 1-for-14.
"That was the game, I hate to say it," said Kent State head coach Geno Ford. "We came out and I don't think there's any question we were too excited to play. We tried to get guys calmed down but obviously we failed mightily at that."
With Ohio leading, 11-10, with 12:33 left to play in the first half, Bassett took over. He started a 10-point scoring binge with the second of his four 3-pointers then hit a jumper to push the Bobcats' lead to 16-10.
After Kent State's Chris Singletary missed a pair of free throws, Bassett again went to work. His 3-point attempt was off but Ivo Baltic secured the long rebound and dished it back to Bassett, who this time hit from 3-point range. An Asown Sayles steal set up Bassett for an easy lay-up and the Bobcats were up, 21-10.
"That was one of the most dynamic performances I've ever been a part of," said Ohio coach John Groce.
Kent State showed signs of life in the second half when they cut the Bobcats' lead to 48-44 with 11:52 remaining in the game.
Trailing 48-42, freshman Randal Holt came off the bench and hit a 3-pointer and followed that up with a jumper to make it a two possession game.
But, Bassett regrouped and scored 12 of the Bobcats' next 13 points. His 3-pointer with 7:54 left gave Ohio a 62-48 lead.
The Flashes would again close to within six points but the Bobcats executed and converted their free throws down the stretch, something they failed to do during two regular season losses to the Flashes.
"It was big," Groce said. "Our guys showed great poise. I'm really proud of them. They executed well. I thought they had that perfect edge to them the last two or three days. That really helped us the way we prepared."
Bassett said the difference in Thursday night's game was his team's execution down the stretch.
"Throughout the season we (were) in every game, especially against (Kent State)," he said. "I felt like if we could have made a couple of plays we could have won. Today was just our night."
Ohio advances to Friday's semifinals where they await the winner of the Thursday night quarterfinal game between Buffalo and Miami. Kent State will next play in the National Invitational Tournament.