Williams leads first-half offensive explosion as Flashes run over Savannah State

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Kent State point guard Jalen Avery surveys the defense during Kent State’s 90-83 overtime win over Miami (OH) on Feb. 27, 2018. Avery scored 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting.

Cameron Hoover

After the Kent State men’s basketball team didn’t tally a single assist in the first half of its loss to Liberty last Friday, the Flashes realized they needed to make a change.

“After the loss to Liberty, it was an emphasis we wanted to make as a team, just being able to share the ball as a team,” point guard Jalen Avery said. “That was unacceptable, not having any assists in a half. It’s been an emphasis, sharing the ball, creating for each other.”

That emphasis paid off Tuesday night, as Kent State (4-1) assisted its first 11 baskets en route to a 63-point explosion in the first half, eventually ending in a 104-84 win over visiting Savannah State (2-4).

The Flashes got off to a hot start, sinking 2 3-pointers in the first 2 minutes thanks to a string of 4 offensive rebounds. Kent State went into the first media timeout up, 11-6. After that, though, the Flashes figured out the Tigers full-court press and got a bevy of open looks, culminating in a 31-12 run.

Junior guard Antonio Williams led the way for Kent State with 17 points and 5 rebounds at halftime. Williams finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting, including 3-for-4 from the 3-point line.

Williams credited the team’s preparation for the uptick in his outside shooting percentage.

“We’ve been shooting an awful lot (in practice),” Williams said. “At the start of practice, we’ll go in separate groups and shoot a lot. I’ve just been catching it and shooting it with confidence. (Jalen Avery)’s been telling me, ‘I want you shooting that shot.’ I’ve been working on it.”

The Flashes went into halftime winning, 63-38, with 16 assists compared to just 6 turnovers, while also causing 11 turnovers from Savannah State. The Tigers missed their first 13 3-point attempts, eventually making just 3-for-21 in the first half.

Kent State finished with a season-high 27 assists on 37 made baskets. Avery and freshman Anthony Roberts led the team with 6 apiece.

“The way (Savannah State) plays, they’re going to make you have assisted baskets,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “They trap and press. There’s not going to be a ton of 1-on-1 play. But that’s also been a huge emphasis of ours over the last couple games. It’s good to see. You see the success we are having offensively by sharing the ball at a really high level.”

Avery finished with 17 points on 5-for-12 shooting from 3-point range. C.J. Williamson and Akiean Frederick finished with 12 points apiece, and Kain Harris added 10 more. Frederick also pulled down 6 rebounds before leaving the game after a hard fall.

Zach Sellers led Savannah State with 22 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including 14 in the second half. Jahlin Smith (15 points), Jaquan Dotson (13 points and 9 rebounds), John Grant Jr. (12 points) and Collins Joseph (10 points) also scored in double-digits for the Tigers.

Senderoff said Frederick will meet with the team doctors either Tuesday or Wednesday before determining his eligibility for Friday’s game at Vanderbilt. Senderoff also said he expects Jaylin Walker, last season’s leading scorer who has sat the first 5 games due to a violation of university policy, to be back “very soon.”

The Flashes return to the court after the Thanksgiving holiday at 5 p.m. Friday at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee, to take on the SEC’s Vanderbilt (4-0).

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