Randal Holt drilled a 15-foot jumper with 1.3 seconds on the clock to lift Kent State (3-2) to a 69-68 victory over Bethune-Cookman (1-3) on Tuesday at the M.A.C. Center.
After forcing a turnover with 15 seconds remaining to gain one final possession, the Golden Flashes left little doubt who they wanted in control of the basketball with the game on the line. Head coach Rob Senderoff called a time out and drew up a play for Holt to get the ball with the chance to create as soon as it was inbounded.
"My whole career I've never been afraid to take big shots," said Holt. "In those moments, I always myself I'm going to make this shot. Coach told me if there is a late-game situation he was coming to me. I drove hard. It was a little step-back, and I knocked it down."
The win in game three of the Joe Cipriano Nebraska Classic helped Kent State close its season-opening homestand with a 3-2 record. It also made sure the Golden Flashes would avoid the bad taste of back-to-back losses before heading out on the road for the first time this season. Kent State plays at Nebraska on Saturday.
"It was not only a big shot, but a big win for our team, especially coming off of Sunday's loss (to Valparaiso)," said Holt, who finished with 13 points . "We didn't want to lose two in a row, especially at home, and then go on the road with a young and inexperienced team."
Another Golden Flashes veteran came up with the key defensive play to provide Holt the opportunity for the game-winner. Leading by one point, Bethune-Cookman tried to run its most dangerous scorer, Kevin Dukes, off of a high ball screen. Dukes is a 5-foot-9 guard, but he couldn't turn the corner on 6-foot-9 Kent State junior Mark Henniger.
The hedging Henniger kept driving the smaller guard towards the Wildcats bench, where Dukes finally stepped out of bounds for the turnover.
"Mark did a great job of keeping (Dukes) in front of him," said Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff. "Dukes kept trying to turn the corner, but Mark did a good job of showing his hands. If he drops his hands at all, it's a foul. And he also did a good job of moving his feet. If he didn't, Dukes would have turned the corner … It was an unbelievable play."
Henniger finished with just five points and three rebounds in 23 minutes, but he "did all of the little things that don't show up in the box score," according to Holt.
"If not for (Henniger) with that good hedge to force their guy out of bounds, there would have been no shot or no last possession," said Holt. "He does a lot for us that he doesn't get credit for. He is a big energy guy."
Chris Evans led Kent State with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Kent State also found energy from two true freshmen making their first career starts. Forward Chris Ortiz posted career highs in points with 13 and rebounds with eight. His 13 points were the most by a first-year player at Kent State since Rodriquez Sherman scored 14 against Bowling Green in 2007. Point guard Kellon Thomas added six points and three assists in a turnover-free night. He also hit the floor while drawing two charges in the first half.
"Both guys brought energy and played really hard," said Senderoff. "They had a big impact on the start of the game, when we played really well, and the start of the second half, when we also played really well. Chris Ortiz also made some really big plays down the stretch."
The Golden Flashes built eight and nine point leads early in both halves only to watch Bethune-Cookman (1-3) fight back behind its long-range shooting. The Wildcats hit 13-of-28 from beyond the three-point arc. Dukes finished led the Wildcats with 18 points while Paul Scotland added 15. The duo combined to go 10-for-16 on threes.
"There were some times when we felt we had a chance to extend a lead and give ourselves some separation, but their guys kept hitting big shots when they needed to," said Senderoff. "At the end, Randal did what Randal does. Take and make big shots. He has done that his whole career. There is nobody I'd rather shoot a big shot than Randal in all of the time I've been here."