Flashes secure four seed despite Walker’s suspension

Philip Whittington scores during Kent State’s win against Akron on March 8, 2019. 

Ian Kreider

Senior guard Jaylin Walker rang the victory bell for the final time, and he was joined by fellow seniors, guard Jalen Avery and forward Akiean Frederick. It was senior night so Walker, Avery and Frederick were honored with framed jerseys before the game.

Walker raised his jersey above his head and received the loudest ovation of the three, but he had nothing to do with the 68-65 win that followed.

Walker came into Friday’s game needing 51 points to pass Trevor Huffman for No. 1 all-time in scoring at Kent State. But a half hour before the game, he was still in his blue sweatpants and gold #BeatAkron shirt with his arms crossed at half court standing next to freshman guard Dehandre Gholston, junior forward Danny Pippen and junior center Antonio Givens, all in warm-ups. Gholston and Walker were suspended for an undisclosed reason.

“I made that decision to not play them tonight,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “That’s really all I want to talk about with that. We’ll talk about (their status) next week.”

The game ended with Walker picking Avery up off his feet near half court after the 68-65 win over Akron.

The final sequence was a scrum in a deafening M.A.C. Center for the ball that started with an Avery inbound pass to junior forward CJ Williamson ended with Avery fully extended for the loose ball in front of the Kent State bench.

Avery inbounded the ball to Williamson, then took the ball back on a handoff and drove to the basket, tossing up a layup from his right hip that missed. After Anthony Roberts put it back and left it short of the rim, Williamson grabbed the ball and threw up a miss, and the ball was batted back towards the scorers table. Avery dove from the right elbow towards the Kent State bench and eventually the ball squirted out of Avery’s hands to Antonio Williams.

“The last 50/50 ball Jalen Avery dove probably 30 feet, it looked like, to get the ball,” Senderoff said. “He just wanted it a little bit more at that point because this thing means so much to him.”

Williams began to dribble out the clock, and then threw up a right-handed three with Akron’s Deng Riak closing in for the intentional foul with two seconds left.

“I just knew the ball was rolling everywhere, and I was like ‘I have to get it,’” Williams said. “Once I got it, I had to run away from everybody. I didn’t want to get fouled. I wanted to take more time off the clock, and when I saw him [Riak] in close, I tried to throw it up to burn off some more time, but I actually threw it towards the rim and they gave me three shots.”

Senderoff praised Williams’ late game intelligence.

“He just has such tremendous instincts,” Senderoff said. “His instincts are off the charts, and that’s what helps make him such a good player.”

An earlier scrum after Williams tracked down a loose ball resulted in technical fouls for Williamson and Williams, Tyler Cheese and Jimond Ivey.

“I was trying to give the ref the ball, and he [Cheese] knocked it out of my hand,” Williams said. “I just wanted to get him up off of me, that’s it.”

Williams scored nine of his 18 points over the final three minutes. He controlled the Kent State offense for most of the game, finishing with a career-high seven assists to go along with three steals in 40 minutes. It has become a common theme for him to run the offense instead of Avery, who continues to play through a sprained ankle.

“(Jalen’s guidance) has helped me develop a lot,” Williams said. “Even when he was hurt, he was always talking to me. The first game he was hurt, I had a bad game, and he was talking to me like, ‘Just be you, just be you, don’t try to be me, just be you.’ He had a speech on his senior night where he wanted to thank me for coming in and working with him.’”

Avery finished with 18 points on 5-for-15 shooting. It was the most points he has scored since Feb. 2 at Ball State.

“I think getting an extra couple days off and one less game is really beneficial for him,” Senderoff said.

Junior forward Philip Whittington finished with a career-high 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting, while also shooting 5-for-6 from the foul line.

Kent State is scheduled to play Thursday at approximately 2:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena and will play the winner of the first round game between Central Michigan and Western Michigan.

Ian Kreider is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].