CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland State University men's basketball team nearly pulled off a comeback attempt in its home opener Saturday evening, but Kent State held on just long enough to claim an 83-79 win in the fourth annual Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer doubleheader.
CSU had a pair of three-point attempts in the final 40 seconds to take the lead, but neither one went down.
The Vikings had rallied from a 12-point deficit early in the second half to tie the game with 12 minutes remaining. Kent State then built its lead back into double figures with fewer than eight minutes left. The Vikings cut it back down to two points in the final minute but missed their chances to pull ahead.
"I'm proud of the team for continuing to fight back tonight over and over and fighting until the end," head coach Dennis Felton said. "We're a work in progress, and we need to continue improving. We did improve in a few ways tonight [from the opener], but not enough to get this one."
Sophomore Tyree Appleby had a career-high and game-high 28 points, all of which came in the second half. He shot 8-of-13 in the final 20 minutes, including 5-of-8 from distance, hitting many challenging looks.
"Tyree had been struggling a little bit as you could see in the first half," Felton said. "We just talked to him at halftime and tried to get him to settle down and play like he's capable of playing. He was very, very determined in the second half to get himself going and he did."
Cleveland State scored six more points from the field than Kent State, but the Golden Flashes made 10 more free throws on the night. The Vikings held KSU to 41.4 percent shooting from the field, nearly an identical mark which it held Davidson to in its season opener.
Junior Jaalam Hill had 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor. He added six rebounds, a block and a steal without turning the ball over.
Kent State had taken an early 10-2 lead by the first media timeout. The Vikings responded with a 10-4 spurt to cut their deficit to just two points over the following four minutes.
The margin stayed between two and eight points for over eight minutes until three-pointers on back-to-back possessions pushed KSU's lead to 10 points, which was the halftime margin.
Kent State stretched its lead to 12 points early in the second half, but Appleby then brought the Vikings back.
Appleby hit a trio of threes and made a pair at the stripe in a 12-2 run that saw the Vikings level the score, 55-55, with about 12 minutes left.
Kent State immediately responded by scoring the game's next 11 points to regain its cushion. The Vikings refused to give in as they slowly worked their way back into the game. A pair of free throws converted by Hill with just over two minutes left put KSU's lead at 79-76.
An old-fashioned, three-point play by sophomore Stefan Kenic with 71 seconds left saw CSU cut the deficit to 81-79.
A steal by junior Kasheem Thomas and a pair of missed free throws on the Golden Flashes' next two possessions gave the Vikings two chances to tie or take the lead, but the hosts would not score again.
For the second game in a row, Cleveland State dominated in scoring from its bench as the Vikings' reserves outscored those from KSU, 32-10. CSU also had a higher shooting percentage than its opponent for the second straight game.
Thomas finished with eight points, six rebounds and three assists while freshman Seth Millner added six points, five boards and two assists without committing a turnover.
Cleveland State had just seven turnovers on the night while Kent State had 12.
True freshman Aleksa Popovic made his collegiate debut Saturday off the bench and had two points and two rebounds in 10 minutes.
Akron defeated Youngstown State, 98-69, in the opening game of the Coaches vs. Cancer doubleheader.
Cleveland State will continue a four-game homestand Tuesday, Nov. 13, when it hosts Urbana.