Kent State’s return to the NCAA Tournament was a quick one.
After a slow start to the game, the No. 14 Golden Flashes (22-14) recovered to make it a hotly contested affair, but the third-seeded UCLA Bruins (30-4) pulled away late for a 97-80 victory in South Region action at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California, Friday night.
In his final game with the Golden Flashes, senior center Jimmy Hall finished off a double-double of 20 points and 15 rebounds, and fellow senior Deon Edwin added 18 points with four rebounds, two assists and one steal.
Additionally, starting shooting guard Jaylin Walker scored a team-best 23 points on nine-of-23 shooting, including a five-for-13 mark from three-point range. Fellow guard Kevin Zabo added 12 points off the bench after burying both of his three-point attempts.
Forward T.J. Leaf led the way for the Bruins with 22 points, while fellow starters Thomas Welsh (16), Lonzo Ball (15) and Isaac Hamilton (14) also scored in double figures against Kent State. Reserve guard Aaron Holiday added 15 points.
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.
Over the last 3:29 of the half, Zabo knocked down a pair of three-pointers, and Edwin added another conversion from long distance, all of which helped the Golden Flashes trim UCLA’s advantage down to eight points, 47-39, heading into halftime.
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.
Walker knocked down a jumper in the lane and got the deficit down to five points, 52-47, and 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 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.
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