KENT--According to Kent State men's basketball coach Geno Ford, his team has to do some "soul searching." You can call it going back to the drawing board, regrouping, gelling; however you want to put it, the Golden Flashes have nine days to figure out what direction the 2008-2009 season might take.
That is because the Western Carolina Catamounts came into the M.A.C. Center on Saturday night and defeated the Golden Flashes, 89-84 in overtime, to send KSU to its fifth straight loss, the most losses in a row since the 1997-1998 season.
There seemed to be an eerie feeling permeating through the M.A.C. Center that the visitors from Western Carolina would somehow find a way to win the game, seemingly having an answer and a big shot at all the right times.
Ohio native Brigham Wagninger led WCU with 20 points. Jake Robinson had 18 and Brandon Giles and Harouna Mutombo both chipped in 16 points.
The loss negated terrific performances by Chris Singletary with a career high of 29 points and 7 rebounds, and what Ford called his best defensive effort in his KSU career.
The other bright spot for the Golden Flashes was the continued evolution of center Brandon Parks, who followed up his inspired play against St. Mary's with a 22-point and 14 rebound effort. Nine of his rebounds were off the offensive glass.
The problem was the rest of the team went 11-38 from the field for 29-percent.
The Golden Flashes went on a 21-7 run in the first half to claim a 32-19 lead before heading into halftime up 39-31. Highlights of the first half included a Parks three-point play to open the scoring at 18:56 and a Jordan Mincy to Justin Greene assist and dunk at the 14:20 mark.
The Catamounts let it be known they wouldn't be fading away as they came out to a 15-6 run to take a 46-45 lead at the 15:14 mark. The Golden Flashes rallied late to send the game into overtime.
But just as much of the game seemed to go, the Catamounts had answers.
WCU knocked down 7-10 free throws in overtime to seal the victory.
"They out played us all game," Ford said. "They just out toughed us. We need some serious practice time and toughening up. We're not committed to buying in and defending. We just don't care enough. They met for an hour and a half (during a player's only meeting before practice Friday), and that's the response we got."
WCU's head coach Larry Hunter said, "I like my kids and their competitiveness. (Kent State's) legs had to be heavy. We caught them at a good time."
Kent State is off next week for finals and will return to action Monday, Dec. 15 to take on Youngstown State at the M.A.C. Center.
Master vs. Apprentice: Western Carolina head coach Larry Hunter is no stranger to the M.A.C. Center in Kent. Hunter recruited and coached Geno Ford at Ohio University. Ford began his coaching career at his alma mater alongside Hunter in 1998, serving one year as a graduate assistant and was promoted to assistant coach, where he remained for two more seasons. Ford's younger brother Dustin, also played for Hunter at Ohio and later coached with him at Western Carolina before heading back to Athens to join John Groce's inaugural staff at Ohio for this season. Hunter and Ford have a strong bond.
"He's like a son to me," Hunter said. "I love him to death."
Ford said, "Larry Hunter is someone who really mentored me, and gave me a start in coaching, but before that also had enough faith in me to offer me a scholarship when a lot of people were scared away because of my size."
Ford took the same defensive system he learned at Ohio under Hunter and installed it at Kent State under Jim Christian, and still uses it today.
"I didn't know any other defensive system other than Coach Hunters', but I knew it worked," said Ford. "We aren't doing anything different seven years later. In fact, our terminology is exactly the same as Western Carolina's. One of their players could come to a team meeting at Kent and understand everything we were talking about, and vice a versa."
New Starting Five: Attempting to send a message to his seniors and his whole team, Geno Ford started three new players in Saturday's game. The lineup made sure to feature no seniors. It was Mike McKee and Chris Singletary in the backcourt with Frank Henry-Ala, Anthony Simpson and Brandon Parks on the front line.
"We said let's try to wake them up", Ford said. "(Shooting) 7-27 (from the field) was the response we got from our seniors."
Radical starting lineup changes aren't that new to the recent history of Kent State basketball. In the 2004-2005 season after two straight blow out losses to Western Michigan and Ohio, Jim Christian started seldom used Demetrius Johnson at point guard and several other new starters in a win at home against IPFW, ironically enough where Johnson ended up transferring to and flourishing under coach Dane Fife. Fans also remember during the 2006-2007 season when seniors Omni Smith and Armon Gates came off the bench for the second half of the year.
WCU players from the Buckeye State: Larry Hunter has tapped into his Ohio recruiting contacts to land two contributors for his Catamounts. Junior guard Brigham Wagninger from South Webster, Ohio had 20 points Saturday on 7-10 shooting from the floor to go along with 6 rebounds. Freshman guard Greg Avery from Newark, Ohio had 5 points. In addition to coaching at Ohio University, Hunter also coached in Ohio at Wittenberg University.
Not so fun flash back: With the loss, Kent State has lost five games in a row for the first time since the 1997-1998 season. Gary Waters was in his second season as Kent State head coach and on his way to a 13-17 record including 9-9 in the MAC. The losses were to Boise State, Oregon State, Hawaii-Hilo, Northern Illinois and Ball State.
Free Throw woes: Coming into Saturday night's game, Kent State ranked last in the MAC in free throw percentage at 60.3 percent. On Saturday the Flashes got to the line a lot to the tune of 40 attempts, but only knocked down 26, for 65-percent. Brandon Parks was 8-13, Julian Sullinger was 4-8 and Jordan Mincy missed his only two attempts.
"You've got to step up there with confidence", Ford said. "The guys that have been struggling haven't been motivated to come in and shoot on their own."
Fisher's funk: Al Fisher struggled in his third straight game, going 4-17 from the field and 0-6 on three point field goals.
"Al's in a funk, there is no question," Ford said. "He is struggling to find a rhythm."