Williams runs offense in Avery’s absence; Flashes avenge worst loss this season

Ian Kreider

Junior guard Antonio Williams found himself in an unfamiliar position: He was the starting point guard for almost 40 minutes in Kent State’s game against Eastern Michigan Saturday.

The change was due to senior guard Jalen Avery’s absence. Avery missed his second consecutive game because of a sprained left ankle.

“My game had to change a lot because I had to pick up everything that he normally does,” Williams said of playing point guard. “Instead of crashing for rebounds, I had to get back on defense. I had to be more of a vocal leader.”

Williams finished with 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting as Kent State scratched and clawed for a 71-58 win over Eastern Michigan. The Flashes are now 19-6 and 8-6 in the Mid-American Conference. Eastern Michigan drops to 11-14, 5-7 MAC.

The Eagles’ defensive length limited Kent State’s offense early, and Williams was tasked with penetrating the zone and limiting turnovers. He finished the game with two assists and one turnover. He helped orchestrate a 16-5 run to open the second half, which included a two-handed slam off a 30-foot alley-oop pass from freshman guard Anthony Roberts.

“I was just being patient, taking my time, getting to the spots I wanted,” Williams said. “I attacked the side that Jaylin (Walker) was on because I know sometimes they’re not going to help.”

Walker was the focus of the zone. He was doubled, and the Eagles’ length limited ball movement early in the game. The zone held Walker to 0-for-9 shooting in the first half and held him scoreless until about 17 minutes left. He finished with 15 points on 3-for-14 shooting. He shot 7-for-9 on free throws in the second half to help close out the win.

“He didn’t play good, he played great,” coach Rob Senderoff said of Walker. “We have struggled to win when he shoots poorly, but in league play he has had a couple times when he hasn’t shot well. But we were able to win because he played well in other areas.”

Junior forward Philip Whittington finished with 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting and 10 rebounds. It was his second consecutive double-double and his seventh of the season. He also limited James Thompson IV to six points and one offensive rebound in 31 minutes. The last time they played, Thompson had 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting, three offensive rebounds and four blocks.

“He’s a great player, but I wanted to prove that I was better than him,” Whittington said.

Whittington also believed that senior forward Akiean Frederick’s presence in the starting lineup helped. It was the first time that Whittington and Frederick had both been included in the starting lineup.

“I think that was the biggest key to the game,” Whittington said. “They always talk about ‘bully the bully.’ They play two 

traditional bigs, so we wanted to prove that we were better than them.’”

Frederick impacted the game in a way that he previously hadn’t in his career: by distributing the ball. He finished with a career-high four assists before fouling out with about four minutes left. He also finished with a team best plus/minus of plus 15.

“The two things he did a great job with were passing and defense,” Senderoff said. “He is probably our best help defender, and we were able to have him in some spots to double the post and to make rotations at the basket.”

Avery’s return is still undecided after he sprained his ankle Feb. 8 at Akron. 

“He’s getting better,” Senderoff said. “I say it’s day to day because it is. Tomorrow he may be good enough to practice. I don’t know. He’ll see the trainer a couple times again tomorrow. We’re not going to risk further injury, but once he’s healthy enough to play, he’ll certainly be back out there.”

Kent State takes on Central Michigan at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the McGuirk Arena in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The Chippewas are coming off an 87-80 win against Ohio on Saturday night

Ian Kreider covers basketball. Contact him at [email protected]