New-look Flashes hold on for season-opening win at Cleveland State

Junior guard C.J. Williamson shoots a contested jumper during Kent State’s game against Cleveland State on Nov. 10, 2018. Williamson scored 16 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in his debut, an 83-79 win over the Vikings at the Wolstein Center. 

Cameron Hoover

Despite fielding a team of players who only averaged 21.5 points per game for Kent State last season, including three key players missing and five debutants, the Flashes gutted out a tough 83-79 season-opening win over hosts Cleveland State Saturday night.

Kent State (1-0) was without three of its regular starters from last season. Danny Pippen is still recovering from a knee injury suffered over the offseason, leading scorer Jaylin Walker served the first game of an indefinite suspension for violating university policy and Adonis De La Rosa transferred to Illinois.

These holes were filled and then some by the Flashes’ fresh faces and an inspired performance down the stretch from senior Jalen Avery. Avery finished with 23 points on 6-for-17 shooting, including four three-pointers, 7-for-10 shooting from the foul line and two free throws to put the game to bed with 14.6 seconds left.

C.J. Williamson, playing in his first game for Kent State after transferring in from Chipola College, chipped in with 16 points and eight rebounds, including a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.

When Avery went to the bench with leg cramps in the second half, guard Antonio Williams, another player making his first appearance for the Flashes, took up the scoring duties, finishing with 18 points of his own on 7-for-12 shooting.

Mitch Peterson rounded out the Flashes’ double-digit scorers with 13 points. Philip Whittington led the Flashes with nine rebounds before fouling out.

“For us to gut out a win on the road — we played really well in spurts,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “There’s also a lot to learn from, which I think is a good sign. We did not play our best game. We have a lot to be able to get better from with this game, which I think is important.”

The Flashes took a 40-30 lead into halftime, but the game got a lot tighter in the second half thanks to red-hot shooting from Cleveland State’s Tyree Appleby. The sophomore guard caught fire, making five three-pointers en route to a 28-point second half.

“We didn’t do a great job defensively during that run, but Appleby also made some really, really tough shots,” Senderoff said. “But we were able to make enough plays, which is what we need to do.”

Avery saw Appleby’s hot streak as an opportunity for him to step up as the team’s vocal authority.

“Just as a senior, I have to be able to be the leader,” Avery said. “When they went on that run, I was just trying to tell the team to relax, to keep confidence in us and let my teammates know that we were in control of the game.”

One of the biggest disparities between the two teams was at the foul line. The teams combined to shoot 70 free throws, but the Flashes shot theirs at a much higher clip: 27-for-38 (71.1 percent) compared to the Vikings’ 17-for-32 (53.1 percent).

Appleby’s 28 points led Cleveland State (0-2). Junior Jaalam Hill made six of his seven field goal attempts en route to 15 points. Hill and Kasheem Thomas each chipped in with six rebounds.

Also making their debuts for the Flashes were freshmen Anthony Roberts (two points) and DeAndre Gholston (four points).

“Overall, there’s a lot of room for growth,” Senderoff said. “But at the same time, it’s really nice to get a win on the road to start the season.”

The Flashes return to the court for their home opener at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the M.A.C. Center when they host Shawnee State.

Cameron Hoover is a senior reporter. Contact him at [email protected].