KENT: Coach Rob Senderoff knew it was probably time to show his two senior team leaders — guards Randal Holt and Chris Evans — a little love.
There wasn’t much positive going on for the Kent State basketball team. The inexperienced Golden Flashes had been stumbling through a four-game game losing streak, including a disappointing loss to Northern Illinois, which had won only four games.
“I’d been really hard on these guys,” Senderoff said. “But I also need them to understand I’m in their corner. I wanted to make sure it’s not just the assistant coaches getting shots up with them. I needed to do it, too. You need to know your head coach has confidence in you.”
So early Friday morning, Senderoff had them join him for an impromptu shoot-around that included as much physical work as it did mental propping up.
“Coach Senderoff has taken it upon himself to get in the gym with me,” Holt said. “Just getting in the gym, try to find a rhythm, get my confidence sky high and get it so that [my shot] feels good as it leaves my hand.”
The powwow did wonders for Holt, who rebounded from a lengthy shooting slump to hit five 3-pointers in Kent State’s (12-10, 3-5 in Mid-American Conference) 77-62 win over Eastern Michigan.
“He stressed to me and Chris to just let the game flow through us and trust our teammates more,” said Holt, a Cleveland native. “Now, I think we’re doing a much better job with that than we were earlier in the season. We’re trusting our teammates and our teammates are trusting us.
“We’re sharing the ball and working together and everyone’s out there playing for each other. That’s the way it has to be in order for us to win and get us playing our best basketball. That’s what we want to do — get to playing our best basketball around now so when the MAC Tournament comes around, we’ve gelled and got our chemistry together.”
The Flashes hope the hard-learned lesson continues to yield dividends as they proceed with league crossover divisional play tonight when they visit West Division leader Western Michigan (14-7, 6-2). They follow that at home Saturday against West Division cellar dweller Central Michigan (9-12, 2-6).
“[The losing streak] wasn’t because we weren’t playing hard,” Holt said. “We were playing hard and giving it our all. We just hadn’t played very well [together]. Coach Senderoff has done a good job of getting us in the gym and it paid off [in Saturday’s win]. Now we have to go up to Western Michigan and play a hard-fought, grind-it-out game where we value each possession, play each play like it’s the last and come out with a victory.”
But it won’t be easy. Western Michigan has always proved to be a difficult place to play for the Flashes, who own a 59-53 edge in the all-time series with the Broncos but have won just 19 out of 54 games at University Arena.
But that trend could change tonight. Not only have Holt and Evans refined their approach to games, but key contributors such as junior forward Darren Goodson have adjusted, too.
“I don’t know if Darren didn’t know what his role was or what,” Senderoff said. “But he’d really been struggling up through the [Dec. 9] Xavier game. After that game, we watched a little film and I shut his water off. I told him, ‘You can’t do some of these things or else you’re going to be gone.’ I didn’t 100 percent mean it, but I meant 70 percent of it.
“To his credit, Darren changed how he was playing and really started thinking pass first. As he did that, he began to play better and we started winning games. Then you get a little bit of a bigger rope because you’re playing well and you’re helping other guys play well.”
In his past five games, Goodson, a junior college transfer, is averaging 12.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and shooting 59 percent from the field.
“If we continue to play hard, play smart and play together, we’ll leave every game with a ‘W,’ ” Goodson said.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.