Five takeaways from Kent State’s loss to No. 14 Buffalo

Senior Philip Whittington pushes past a defender during the first half of the Flashes matchup against Buffalo on Jan. 25. Kent State lost, 88-79.

Henry Palattella

Five takeaways from Kent State’s loss to No. 14 Buffalo   

For 37 minutes on Friday, the Kent State men’s basketball team was right there against No. 14 Buffalo. 

But in the end, the final three minutes turned out to be the Flashes undoing. The Flashes committed three turnovers in the final three minutes that led to six unanswered points for the Bulls, which turned out to be more than enough in the Bulls 88-79 win.

Here are five takeaways from the loss:

1. It was a tale of two halves for Jaylin Walker: “Walker finished with 21 points on 7-for-17 shooting, but the Bulls were able to keep him in check for most of the second half. He came out of the gates hot and had his signature moment when he knocked down an absurd three-pointer from 30 feet out that was off his back foot that gave the Flashes a 25-12 lead. After that, however, the Bulls were able to contain him more. Walker, who played all 40 minutes, went 1-for-7 in the second half and also committed three turnovers. Buffalo guard CJ Massinburg was Walker’s primary defender for most of the night, but he was spelled at periods by Dontay Caruthers and Davonta Jordan, both of whom held their own against the Flashes’ high-flying guard. Buffalo coach Nate Oaks said after the game that Massinburg “studied and asked for Walker” on defense. The Bulls spent most of the second half face-guarding Walker as soon as he stepped over the half court line.

2. Mitch Peterson’s absence hurt, but it doesn’t appear to be serious: The Flashes played a man short Friday since guard Mitch Peterson sustained a sprained ankle at Thursday’s practice. While he’s not a prolific scorer (he’s only scored in double-figures twice this year) he’s a vital contributor off the bench in Kent State’s four guard offense. Coach Rob Senderoff said after that game that Peterson’s injury limited Kent State’s options, which led to Walker not only having to play all 40 minutes but also meant the Flashes had to trot out some different lineups. Big men Philip Whittington and Akiean Frederick shared the floor for long stretches of time, while Deandre Gholston saw his first action in three games. Senderoff said that he won’t know until “Monday or Tuesday” if Peterson will play in the Flashes’ upcoming game against Western Michigan.

3. Phil Whittington made up for Toledo: On Tuesday against Toledo, Whittington only managed to score two points in 13 minutes, with most of his playing time in the second half going to Frederick. Whittington responded with his best game of the year against the Bulls, recording 18 points and 13 rebounds. Whittington said he wasn’t as focused as he needed to be against the Rockets, and Friday’s game is a perfect example of how much of a force he can be when he is focused. The offseason transfer of Adonis De La Rosa hurt the Flashes, but some strong play the rest of the season from the 6-8 junior could go a long way towards the Flashes chances of making a run deep into March.

4. A lack of ball movement ended up being Flashes undoing: The Bulls did a good job of limiting Kent State in transition, as Kent State only finished with eight assists and six fast-break points. The Flashes also finished with 14 turnovers, none of which were bigger than Walker’s back-to-back turnovers in the final minutes that put the game away. After the game Senderoff lauded Buffalo’s ability to play one-on-one and said that the Flashes didn’t get enough stops in the second half to get out and run in transition.

5. Flashes’ offense might need another spark: Walker is having a great senior season, as he’s averaging 23.4 points per game on 45% shooting from three-point range. That said, Buffalo’s stifling defense clearly made him uncomfortable in the second half, and it will be interesting to see if other teams try to emulate the Bulls defensive strategy in an attempt to stop Walker. If that’s the case, someone else on the roster will need to pick up Walker’s scoring streak. CJ Williamson’s scoring has teetered off since non-conference (he hasn’t scored in double-figures in 14 games), Antonio Williams’ play has picked up as of late, and his ability to get to the rim and draw fouls could become an invaluable asset for the Flashes.

Kent State is back in action when they take on Western Michigan on Tuesday. The Broncos are 0-6 in the MAC and are coming off a loss to Ohio University Tuesday.  

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