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ASU tops No. 25 Kent St. 17-13 in GoDaddy.com Bowl

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ASU tops No. 25 Kent St. 17-13 in GoDaddy.com Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) Arkansas State's offense was held in check Sunday night after piling up big numbers this season. It was the defense that led the Red Wolves to a breakthrough victory.

Ryan Aplin threw for 213 yards and a touchdown, J.D. McKissic caught 11 passes for 113 yards and Arkansas State edged No. 25 Kent State 17-13 to win the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

Arkansas State's usually prolific offense struggled against Kent State, but the consistent Aplin-to-McKissic connection and a stingy defense was enough to help the Red Wolves (10-3) to their first bowl win since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1992.

Kent State (11-3) was driving late in the game when quarterback Spencer Keith tried to scramble on fourth down and was stopped a few yards short of the marker with 52 seconds left. Linebacker Qushaun Lee made the shoestring tackle for the Red Wolves and finished with a team-leading 13 stops.

``That was a good one,'' Arkansas State interim coach John Thompson said. ``Our guys stepped up with a minute to go. We really needed a play, and our guys made one. It wasn't anything except for ballplayers. It was anything special at all. We just made plays.''

Darrell Hazell roamed the Kent State sideline one more time in the Golden Flashes' first bowl game since 1972. He is leaving the program to take over at Purdue.

Thompson, a veteran defensive coordinator, coached the Red Wolves after Gus Malzahn left to take the Auburn job last month. It was the second straight season Arkansas State had to play its bowl game without the coach that led it to a Sun Belt championship - Hugh Freeze left for Mississippi in 2011 before last year's GoDaddy.com Bowl, which the Red Wolves lost 38-20 to Northern Illinois.

The results were much better this time - and the defensive-minded Thompson was especially pleased with that side of the ball.

Arkansas State's offense was dominant during the last half of the regular season, averaging more than 41 points during a seven-game winning streak.

But the Red Wolves had to rely on their defense in this one while the offense slowly warmed up. Kent State took a 7-0 lead on Dri Archer's 16-yard touchdown run and the margin could have been worse, but Arkansas State linebacker Nathan Herrold picked off a tipped pass in the end zone to end a promising drive for the Golden Flashes.

David Oku rushed for a tying 10-yard touchdown with 5:40 remaining in the second quarter, and then Aplin hit McKissic for a 31-yard touchdown minutes later to make it 14-7.

``Our offense did exactly what it was supposed to do,'' Thompson said. ``They did a great job. Ryan Aplin took some shots - I guess I can say it now - some unnecessary shots that weren't good. But our defense - we've got men over there. Grown men.''

Kent State responded with a 42-yard field goal by Freddy Cortez just before halftime. The teams traded field goals in the third quarter, but neither team could score in the fourth.

The Golden Flashes put together one last drive in the final minutes, with Keith completing a clutch 15-yard pass over the middle on fourth down with less than two minutes remaining. He was headed for another fourth-down conversion just four plays later, but was tripped up on a scramble deep in Arkansas State territory. The Red Wolves then began to celebrate on their sideline.

``I saw their defense drop back really fast, and I thought I had enough room to get the first down,'' Keith said. ``But they were able to get me on the ankle.''

It was a disappointing end to an otherwise breakthrough season for Kent State, which set a school record with 11 victories, including a 10-game winning streak that lasted nearly three months. But they dropped their last two games, including a 44-37 double-overtime loss to Northern Illinois on Nov. 30 in the Mid-American Conference championship.

One reason Kent State was able to win 11 games was a dynamic rushing attack that averaged more than 250 yards per game. But the duo of Archer and Trayion Durham didn't have a particularly good game against the Red Wolves.

Archer, who missed much of the second half with an apparent injury, led the Golden Flashes with 77 yards rushing while Durham added 68.

Aplin completed 21 of 30 passes in his final college game. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior owns nearly every school passing record and is the Sun Belt two-time player of the year.

This wasn't one of his most spectacular games, but he was consistent, made very few mistakes and had no turnovers.

That was no small feat against Kent State, which led the nation with 38 takeaways coming into the game. The Golden Flashes couldn't get one against the Red Wolves.

``That was a huge part of our game plan,'' Aplin said. ``We knew we couldn't afford to give them momentum. Our guys did a great job taking care of the ball and giving our defense a chance to help us win.''

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Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

WASHINGTON -- Wizards forward Rui Hachimura has translated so smoothly to the NBA level that it is easy to forget he is still just a rookie with only 31 games under his belt. For a reminder of his inexperience, just look at the fourth quarter.

Hachimura tends to start games hot on the offensive end, like he did on Friday in the Wizards' loss to the Cavaliers when he had eight points by the end of the first quarter. But he scored only nine points after that and went scoreless through seven minutes in the fourth.

That has been a consistent theme for him this season. He averages 4.8 points in the first quarter shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 4.0 points in the second shooting 57 percent and then 4.3 points on 47.9 percent in the third. In the fourth quarter those numbers plummet to 1.9 points on average and 33.3 percent shooting.

Basically, Hachimura often comes out on fire but then slows down considerably once opponents make midgame changes. Against the Cavs, Hachimura said it was because they disrupted passing lanes.

"They are an NBA team. They just adjusted. They didn't want me to catch the ball. They didn't let me just catch the ball. I think that's why," he said.

The Wizards have seen teams switch defensive match-ups midgame to counter Hachimura. Sometimes taking away his midrange jumper will be prioritized. The Cavs seemed to find success playing Hachimura more physically in the second half, bumping him away from his comfort zones.

Over time, Hachimura can improve his ability to sustain scoring throughout games simply by becoming more versatile. The more consistent he becomes at making three-point shots and creating off the dribble, the more difficult it will be for teams to stop him. As long as he keeps improving, he will reach a point where he can stay ahead of the defense with a multitude of counters.

Developing a more reliable outside game and more dribble combinations will take some time. For now, Hachimura believes the key to him keeping up his scoring pace involves working with his teammates, particularly star shooting guard Bradley Beal.

"I just gotta connect more with Brad. Brad is the one everybody is trying to guard. Screens and pick-and-rolls with him, that kind of stuff will help me," Hachimura said.

Hachimura's game against the Cavaliers reflected how the team played overall. After scoring 41 points in the first quarter, they managed only 42 in the second half. They blew a 16-point lead and lost, 113-108.

So, he wasn't alone. And those rooting for Hachimura to round out his game should feel good about his odds. He has a relentless work ethic and is often staying after practice to go over film with player development coach Dave Adkins.

Hachimura is perceptive and driven to improve. In order to take the next step as a scorer, he will have to get better at closing games.

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Want to witness history? Why Saturday's game is a good bet for Alex Ovechkin to score 700

Want to witness history? Why Saturday's game is a good bet for Alex Ovechkin to score 700

Alex Ovechkin is capable of scoring any time against any team, but if you're trying to pinpoint when history could happen and see goal No. 700, there are plenty of reasons to be watching Saturday's marquee matchup against the New Jersey Devils (1 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

In three games this season, Ovechkin has scored four times against New Jersey. On Jan. 16, he was bloodied by a high stick from Miles Wood and left for the locker room returning before the first period was up and scored twice. He did not just get mad, he got even and completed the hat trick in the third period.

Head coach Alain Nasreddine did not reveal who his starter would be in net on Friday, but it will be either MacKenzie Blackwood or Cory Schneider. Keep your fingers crossed for Schneider.

Schneider has not played an NHL game since Jan. 18 and was recalled from the AHL on Thursday most likely because Louis Domingue is headed out of town in a trade and the team wanted to protect the asset. Schneider has a 4.65 GAA and .852 save percentage in nine games. Ovechkin has also had plenty of success against him in the past, scoring eight times against the Devils netminder. He has only managed one goal on Blackwood, but it came this season on Dec. 12, 2019.

Ovechkin has a history of success against the Devils. In 56 games against New Jersey, Ovechkin scored in 22 of them. He has 29 total goals including two of his 28 career hat tricks against the Devils.

New Jersey ranks 30th in the NHL in goals against and, although they have improved in that area since Jan. 1, they still rank 21st in that time keeping the puck out of the net.

Add in the fact that the trade deadline firesale has already begun with the Devils shipping out Blake Coleman and captain Andy Greene in the past week, as well as Taylor Hall back in December, and this may be a team not ready to stop Ovechkin's march to history.

With Ovechkin on the verge of 700, there's no doubt that Saturday's marquee matchup (1 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) is one you won't want to miss.

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