Walker propels Flashes back from the dead in comeback win

Kent State’s Anthony Roberts (15) celebrates with Akiean Frederick (3) and Troy Simmons after defeating Toledo 87-85 in overtime, Tuesday at the M.A.C. Center.

Henry Palattella

Walker propels Flashes back from the dead in comeback win


Kent State probably shouldn’t have won its game Tuesday night.


The Flashes looked lethargic for stretches and it showed on the scoreboard; they found themselves down by as many as 17 in the opening minutes of the second half.


But then something clicked.


Maybe it was the defense of the Flashes’ guards. Maybe it was the play of freshman Anthony Roberts or senior Akiean Fredrick off the bench. Maybe it was the jaw-dropping shooting clinic put on by Jaylin Walker. Maybe it was a combination of all of them. But whatever it was, it worked for Kent State on Tuesday night.


The Flashes snuck past Toledo 87-85 on Tuesday in one of the zaniest games I’ve seen at the M.A.C. Center in my time around the Kent State basketball team. It looked as it was going to be another frustrating conference loss for the Flashes, a team that, despite having 14 wins on the season, would have needed to do some soul-searching in the days leading up to their matchup against No. 14 Buffalo on Friday. Instead it was a game that featured a roaring home crowd, a freshman ringing the victory bell and a press conference filled with smiles and jokes from players and coaches alike, something that seemed impossible earlier in the evening.

Walker knocked down two big threes in the final minutes, but his performance will be remembered, rightfully so, by his last shots. Walker made a shot with 26 seconds left when he made an off-balance layup à la LeBron James that tied the game.

After making a mid-range jumper to open overtime, Walker’s final shot was a mid-range jumper off one foot with 26 seconds left in overtime to give the Flashes the 87-85 winning margin. Two possessions before Walker’s game-winning bucket, the Flashes tied the game on a transition dunk by Antonio Williams that was set up by a behind-the-back pass from C.J. Williamson.

“That’s the JUCO in him,” Senderoff said with a laugh of Williamson’s behind-the-back pass. “He competed really hard and made some big plays for us. He’s had some ups and downs but for him to have the confidence he has is important for our team.”

Most of Walker’s made three-pointers came when everyone within the vicinity in the M.A.C. Center knew he was going to shoot, but more often than not it didn’t seem to matter.

Walker’s play was complimented by the aforementioned play of Frederick and Roberts, who turned in their best games of the season thus far.

Roberts, a 6-1 freshman from Detroit, hadn’t seen the court in the Flashes’ past three games, but played 22 minutes against the Rockets, recording 10 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals.

“Anthony’s really talented and I’ve said it many times that he’s one of the most talented freshmen we’ve ever had here, but sometimes his focus isn’t where I’d like it,” Senderoff said. “I’m not easy on freshman and he’s had some growing pains, but he came in and he played really hard and to his credit he guarded the best he’s guarded all season and he needs to continue that.”

Frederick, meanwhile, might be playing himself into Whittington’s starting center spot. He recorded his second straight game in double-figures (12 points, seven rebounds and a made three-pointer) and was part of the Flashes’ game-clinching lineup that featured, him, Roberts, Walker, Jalen Avery and Williams.

“We had to do it because we needed some ball pressure on the basketball,” Senderoff said “We’re small at all times so we really need to compete.”

The Flashes defense hounded Toledo for the back part of the second half, particularly in the backcourt, with Roberts, Williamson, Avery and Walker pestering the Rockets guards at every opportunity possible.

“When we’re at our best that’s how we’re guarding and playing. We know we have to do that in order to win,” Senderoff said of the defense.

After the game Senderoff said that there could be some upcoming games where the Flashes go “even deeper” into their bench, which will be interesting to see. The Flashes went eight deep against the Rockets, with both Walker and Williams playing over 40 minutes and Avery not far behind with 38. Roberts totaled 22 minutes but was subbed out for Williamson in overtime (“He was cramping, he had never played that hard,” Senderoff said) while Whittington only recorded 13 minutes compared to Frederick’s season-high 31.

“Phil struggled today, he just didn’t seem like he was into it the way he had been and sort of struggled,” Senderoff said after the game.

If Roberts is going to become an integral part of the Flashes’ rotation, it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in. Maybe he spells Jalen Avery for 7 to 10 minutes (like he did in the first half of Tuesday’s game) or maybe Senderoff elects to run a small lineup of four guards and Frederick, a lineup that’s devoid a traditional, big bodied “center” but has the ability to quickly get up and down the court.

It also appears as if BJ Duling has completely fallen out of Senderoff’s rotation. Duling — who came into the season looking to fill the hole left by Danny Pippen’s injury — didn’t play Tuesday. Duling played 16 minutes in the Flashes’ loss to Eastern Michigan on Jan. 12 but has eight minutes total in the Flashes’ past three games. Senderoff said earlier in the year that he’s still tinkering with the lineups and rotations, so there might a chance for him to see the court again, but the emergence of Roberts might change preemptive plans that had been made. 

Tuesday was the first true conference test for the Flashes, and they passed. Barely. Friday will prove whether this was a fluke when they welcome No. 14 Buffalo (17-2, 5-1) to the M.A.C. Center. Talk to you then.

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