Every time the Kent State men’s basketball team had a run in them, the UCLA Bruins had a response.
And when it mattered most, the third-seeded Bruins (30-4) hit their shots and kept the 14th-seeded Golden Flashes (22-14) from getting closer than five points on the way to a 97-80 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California, Friday night.
“Very proud of our group,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “We had our chances. We didn't start off the game very well, down 16-2, but battled back. Halftime, it was an eight-point game. Started the second half off well, but ultimately, we didn't get enough stops and they're a very good team.”
Kent State Golden Flashes take on UCLA Bruins in NCAA Tournament
On the strength of their interior scoring and Kent State’s inability to keep up with the fast tempo of play, the Bruins jumped out to a 16-2 advantage less than six minutes into the game.
Although Kent State matched UCLA, basket for basket, over the next four minutes, the Bruins would push the lead to at least 14 points on three occasions before the Golden Flashes made a run to cut the deficit to single digits.
“That's sort of how we have played all season long and we're a good second-half team,” Senderoff said. “We've been down at halftime of a lot of games, so I thought cutting it to eight points, single digits at halftime was important and we had a great start to the second half.
“It seemed like there were a lot of contested shots that they were making, and as the game wore on, some of them became less and less contested. I thought we played as hard as we could play. As a coach, that's really all you can ask for. I couldn't be prouder of the effort.
“Proud of the guys for the whole season, but certainly, I think outside of the result, what you saw in terms of how hard we played is what our program is about.”
Senior center Jimmy Hall got the Golden Flashes started the second half with a layup that got UCLA’s lead down to six points, 47-41, and although the Bruins answered by scoring five of the next six points, Kent State would not go away.
Sophomore guard Jaylin Walker knocked down a jumper in the lane and got the deficit down to five points, 52-47. Hall appeared to further cut into UCLA’s lead when he got fouled on a made layup attempt. However, the baseline official ruled the foul happened before the shot and waved off the basket.
After that call, UCLA went on a 6-3 run and pushed the lead back into double digits, 63-53, when Aaron Holiday converted a breakout layup with 12:16 remaining in the game.
The Bruins essentially finished the game with a 16-2 run late in the second half, and had a 12-minute stretch without missing a basket.
“They didn't miss,” Senderoff said. “In the second half, they shot 65 percent. I thought for the most part, we guarded pretty well. They're a good team, tremendous offensive team, but couldn't be more proud of our guys in terms of how hard we fought throughout the entire game and for the season that we had this year.”