Four takeaways from Kent State’s loss to Akron

Jalen Avery after an ankle injury in the last five minutes of the game. He was walked off the court but returned to the bench a few moments later.

Henry Palattella

Things went about as badly as they could for the Flashes on Friday. 

They shot the ball poorly.

They came out flat in the second half.

Their defense was lackluster.

But as Rob Senderoff noted in his postgame press conference, moments after throwing down his crumpled stat sheet,  it’s over.

While the sting of a blowout loss to Akron might linger longer than anyone in the Flashes’ locker room would care to admit, it ended when the final buzzer sounded.

Some of the problems the Flashes ran into were minor flukes — others were season long issues that came to a head.

Jalen Avery had a scary fall: The whole direction of Kent State’s season nearly changed with 6:30 left in the second half when Jalen Avery went down with what looked like a serious leg injury. Avery attempted a three in front of Kent State’s bench and immediately grabbed his leg after landing awkwardly on the foot of an Akron defender. After the game, Senderoff said Avery twisted his ankle and he thinks “Avery will be OK, but we’ll have to see.”

 It can’t be overstated how important Avery is to this team. Not only is Avery first in the nation with a 5.67 assist to turnover ratio, but he’s also a calm, collected yin to Jaylin Walker’s volume shooter yang. While Anthony Roberts has played well in spurts, the Flashes would be asking a lot of the true freshman to replicate the play of one of the best distributors in the country. 

When it rains, it pours: When the Flashes lose in conference play, it’s not pretty. Every one of the Flashes’ losses in conference play has been by 10+ points, with two of them being by more than 20. Senderoff said at numerous points this season that this Kent State team is built to win close games, and he’s right, they are. 

But they’re still having trouble stopping runs. In their wins, the Flashes have answered their opponents blow, thanks in part to strong perimeter defense and an emphasis on outside shooting. But when either of those things aren’t going for the Flashes (as they weren’t Friday night), things can get ugly fast.

Groce defense: For the first time this season, Jaylin Walker didn’t make a three, finishing an abysmal 4-for-19 from the field and 0-for-10 from deep. Walker’s poor performance has piled onto his recent shooting struggles, as he’s gone 15-for-61 over the Flashes’ past three games. Walker’s still having a solid season from beyond the arc — he’s still shooting 44 percent from three — but his shooting woes will be put more under the microscope if the losses keep piling up.

 After the game, Akron coach John Groce called Walker the “type of player that keeps coaches up at night” and that Akron “got a little bit fortunate that he missed some.” Groce and the Zips guarded Walker as soon as he crossed half-court and overcommitted at the three-point line, which did allow Walker some space to get to the midrange, but also shut him off from deep. Walker just needs to see one go in for him to get in rhythm. Groce and the Zips did not give him that chance.

Foul trouble: Early fouls were once again a problem for the Flashes, especially in the front court. Early foul trouble to Phillip Whittington and Akiean Frederick meant BJ Duling, in his first serious minutes since Jan. 15, came into the game at the 10:17 mark. Duling recorded four points and three rebounds in nine minutes, but he also went 0-for-3 from the free-throw line and picked up two fouls on the same Akron possession.

“I probably should have played Phil more,” Senderoff said after the game. “I was disappointed with how he defended, but I was probably wrong about that because he had four blocks.”

The Flashes still won the rebounding battle despite Whittington only playing a season-low 10 minutes. Frederick’s play of late has been a crutch that Senderoff and the Flashes can lean on when Whittington struggles, but when Frederick has nights like Friday (two points and four rebounds in 22 minutes), Kent State could be in trouble. 

Henry Palattella is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].