Walker, Peterson step up in Avery’s absence

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Kent State junior guard CJ Williamson lays up a shot at the start of the second half against Miami University on Tuesday evening. 

Ian Kreider

For a Kent State team missing senior guard Jalen Avery, two second-half runs proved to be the difference Thursday night.

A 12-2 run midway through the half ballooned the lead to 50-39. Senior guard Jaylin Walker scored seven points during the run. Junior guard Mitch Peterson scored six of his season-high 17 points during the later 16-2 run, which eliminated any doubt. The late run gave Kent State the 75-53 lead with about three minutes left.

“Mitch stepped up big time for us,” coach Julian Sullinger said on Kent State radio. “He hit some shots early, and he kept it going. The big thing for us (during the runs) was ball movement.”

Kent State improves to 18-6 and 7-4 in the Mid-American Conference, while Western Michigan is 7-18 and 1-11 in MAC play.

Peterson knocked down a career-high five three-pointers in the 82-63 win against Western Michigan. It was the first time that Peterson had scored in three games, and the first time that he had scored in double digits since Jan. 8 against Western Michigan. He started in place of senior guard Avery, who currently leads the nation in assist to turnover ratio (5.31).

“Jalen Avery is our leader,” Sullinger said. “He’s the engine of our team. We understood that not having him was going to be a huge loss. We knew that everyone had to chip in at some point.”

Walker added a game-high 25 points on 9-for-20 shooting, and freshman guard Anthony Roberts scored 14 points in a season-high 31 minutes. Junior forward Philip Whittington finished  with 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting. He was the primary defender on Seth Dugan, who is one of two seven-footers in the conference.

Dugan came into the game having secured 10 or more rebounds in six of his last eight games. Whittington limited him to seven rebounds and 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting. They also limited the Broncos’ leading scorer, Bryan Flowers offensively, forcing three turnovers.

“We did a really good job of rotating,” Sullinger said. “Flowers is one of the best isolation players. I know he had 15 points, but it was a tough 15. He usually gets more than 10 field goal attempts up. We did a good job of getting the ball out of his hands.”

Their defensive adjustment in the second half proved to be the difference because early foul trouble limited their play.

“In the second half we were able to defend without fouling, which allowed us to get out in transition,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “We’re at our best in transition.”

Kent State will look to continue their strong play against Eastern Michigan at 7 p.m. Saturday at the M.A.C. Center. The last time they played each other the Flashes lost 95-61.

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

“We have to get our rest and compete as hard as we did tonight,” Senderoff said. “Tonight was probably our best overall game of the season.”