Four takeaways from Kent State’s narrow win over Miami (OH)

Anthony Roberts leads the Flashes in a fast break during the first half against Miami University on Feb. 5. 

Henry Palattella

Once Nike Sibande’s half-court heave at the buzzer harmlessly careened off the backboard, Jaylin Walker turned and let out an emphatic roar before being swallowed up by his teammates. 

At first glance, Walker looked more like a boxer than a basketball player, with his left eye swollen from an earlier elbow hit and his right leg bandaged from a cut he had previously sustained.

But that didn’t matter. Walker calmly knocked down two free throws with 1.3 seconds left, giving the Flashes a 70-67 lead, the margin they’d go on to win by after Sibande’s heave missed the basket.

Kent State improved to 17-5 and 6-3 in the MAC with the win. Here are some takeaways from the Flashes’ win.

One final stand:

Before Walker’s heroics, the Flashes first needed to stop the RedHawks (12-11, 4-6 Mid-American Conference). Miami was down by one with 11 seconds left when they inbounded the ball to Sibande, who drove on Antonio Williams for a layup.

Williams stayed with Sibande step-for-step and was helped on defense by Akiean Frederick, with the two of them making Sibande adjust just enough for his shot to miss. A mad scrum ensued for the rebound, but the ball ended up in Walker’s hand, who calmly knocked down two free throws to give the Flashes the three-point lead. 

“(Having Frederick) allowed me to put pressure on him and pull up for a jump shot so I led him into the help defense,” Williams said after the game.

Williams followed up his heroics on Saturday with an 11-point game to go along with two assists and two steals. He bumped his scoring average up to 10.8 points per game for the season and is now shooting nearly 60 percent from the field since conference play started. While he isn’t the best shooter from deep (more on that later) he’s still a solid option on the wing who can attack the rim when he needs to. He’s also an above-average defender who can limit someone on the wing; he just needs to work on staying out of foul trouble. Coach Rob Senderoff said postgame that he didn’t know until an hour before the game if Williams was going to play due to an injury.

Akiean Frederick is becoming a problem:

Coming into the season, Frederick seemed like something of a wild card. The 6’9” senior had an up-and-down campaign last year, as he showed some promise early in the season but eventually found himself out the rotation once the calendar flipped to March. 

That has not been the case this season.

Frederick has played in all but one of the Flashes’ conference games, recording double-figures in four of those games. He totaled 12 points in 27 minutes against Miami and has now cemented his place in Senderoff’s rotation.

“It’s mainly a confidence thing,” Frederick said of his play of late. “I start on defense and that creates offense for me.”

Frederick played almost all of the second half, with Senderoff electing to play him over starting center Phil Whittington — who totaled four points in 16 minutes — because of Frederick’s “mobility” that allowed him to effectively guard the RedHawks big men when they drifted out to the wings.

Walk this way:

On a night when he was having trouble seeing the basket, Jaylin Walker found other ways to impact the game. Walker finished 6-for-16 from the field, with three of his misses being air balls. That said, Walker finished with a career-high nine rebounds to go along with 13-for-14 shooting from the free throw line (both of which are also career-highs). 

Walker took at least three hard fouls on layup attempts, one of which led the aforementioned injury to his eye. Senderoff said afterwards that if the injury hadn’t occurred during a media timeout, someone else would have shot the impending free throws. Instead Walker went to the trainer’s table before coming back into the game and calmly knocking down two free throws with 3:39 left to give the Flashes a 62-61 lead.

“He’s playing at a really high level right now; he’s playing a lot of minutes,” Senderoff said. “I’m playing a lot of these guys a lot of minutes but they’re seniors.” 

Both Walker and point guard Jalen Avery (who recorded six points and five assists) played 38 minutes, while Williams played 28. Both Walker and Avery have played over 35 minutes in each of the Flashes past six games while Williams has averaged 31 minutes per game since conference play started. 

“When you play for me, by the time you get to your senior year, I’m going to develop a lot of trust in you and those guys have given me no reason to not believe in them that way,” Senderoff said.

Rotations rotations…:

Senderoff seems to have found his starting lineup for the rest of the season in Avery, Walker, Williams, Whittington and C.J. Williamson. That said, the Flashes bench has stepped up recently, thanks in part to the play of Frederick. Him, Mitch Peterson and Anthony Roberts were the only Flashes to see time off the bench, compared to the RedHawks who went 12 deep off their bench. 

Roberts gave the Flashes eight points off the bench, while Peterson grabbed four rebounds and missed his only shot. After the game, Senderoff hinted that he might be going deeper into his bench as the season wears on.

“I’ve got some guys that I haven’t played over the last couple games that I know can help us too, I just need to see a little more in practice for me to get a little more confident to get them in,” he said. “But they’re all good players, even the guys that aren’t playing.”

One of the players Senderoff could be talking about could be sophomore forward BJ Duling. Duling started two games earlier in the conference slate but has totaled 10 minutes of play time since then. Duling averaged 4.8 points per game last season but seems to be stuck behind the Flashes’ loaded backcourt. 

The Flashes will be back in action when the travel to Akron on Friday to take on the Zips in the first round of 2019’s Wagon Wheel matchups. Should be fun. See you then.

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