Foul trouble downs Flashes in MAC Quarterfinals

Junior Antonio Williams drive to the basket in the second half of the Mid-American Conference game held at Quicken Loans Arena on March 14, 2019.

Ian Kreider

Senior guard Jaylin Walker untucked his jersey and walked toward the sideline with 20 seconds left of what could be his final game in a Kent State jersey.

Once he checked out, he hugged coach Rob Senderoff first, followed by director of basketball operations Brian Barnes, assistant coach Julian Sullinger and finally the rest of the players and staff on the bench. 

After the horn sounded, senior guard Jalen Avery sat with his back pressed against his seat staring into the distance until fellow senior Akiean Frederick bumped him to rouse him from his stare. Avery looked around, stood up and moved towards the handshake line before entering into the bowels of Quicken Loans Arena.

The Flashes’ fell to Central Michigan by a score of 89-81 on Thursday in the Quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament.

Walker finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, but shot just 7-for-19.

Avery finished with two assists and zero turnovers, but shot just 3-for-14.

Early foul trouble limited junior guard Antonio Williams, and after he picked up his fourth foul with about 15 minutes left, Central Michigan went on a 26-5 run. The lead ballooned to 73-54 with about seven minutes left.

“It played a big role in the way that I usually go out,” Williams said of his early foul trouble. “I picked up a real ticky‑tack foul early.  So I just felt like I really couldn’t play how I’ve been playing all year. So, it was real different for me, but like I’ve just got to keep my composure and adjust.”

The Flashes found success getting the ball to junior Philip Whittington, who finished with a career-high 23 points and also secured 14 rebounds. Senderoff pointed to the lack of possessions involving Whittington as also attributing to the run.

“We just struggled,” Senderoff said. “We didn’t get the ball in to Phil during that time, we didn’t get stops during that time.”

Frederick, in his potential final game for the Flashes, scored 10 points and grabbed three offensive rebounds.

As of now, the Flashes have a 22-10 overall record to go along with a 11-7 conference record. Outside of an invitation to postseason tournament like the NIT, CIT or CBI, Walker, Avery and Frederick have played their final game for Kent State.

In the past, Senderoff has deferred the decision to play in a postseason tournament to the team’s seniors. 

The Flashes could be saying goodbye to their three seniors, but they have left a lasting impression on their teammates.

“There was one time me and (Jalen Avery) were in the gym, it was like a late night and he was talking to me,” Williams said. “He was like, ‘Bro, I think we  are going to play a lot together.’  So he was like, ‘We don’t have to beef. We can play together. You can guard somebody bigger and you can give me some shots.’”

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