Late push not enough as Flashes drop first game of season


Kent State junior point guard Jalen Avery brings the ball up the floor against Northern Illinois on March 5, 2018. The Flashes won, 61-59, in the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament. 

Ian Kreider

Kent State  started slow again Friday night, but unlike Tuesday night the Flashes weren’t able to rebound, falling to Liberty, 77-70.

The Flashes (2-1) entered halftime against Liberty (3-0) with zero assists as a team. The offense struggled, with Liberty holding a 31-23 lead at halftime.

Kent State came out with a sense of urgency late in the second half, with the Flames’ lead ballooning to as much as 16. The Flashes clawed their way back, with Jalen Avery serving as an offensive catalyst, finishing with 23 points in 39 minutes. The Flashes also used a suffocating full-court press that helped cut down Liberty’s 16-point lead.

“There are some things out there that I have to be able to do; it’s as simple as that,” Avery said. “I have to push through fatigue because I’m the point guard. I just have to be better.”

The Flashes finished 0-for-5 from deep in the third quarter, with Avery knocked down the team’s first three with 16:08 left in the game. The Flashes shot 4-for-10 from three in the second half.

Junior forward Phil Whittington was also a large part of the late-game run, finishing with a season-high 14 points, six rebounds and four blocks. He had a put-back dunk that cut the Liberty lead to just five points with 46 seconds left.

“That’s something that our team needs,” Whittington said. “I try to be that guy for our team. I’m trying to be a role model to the young guys; I’ve already been here a year.”

One of the factors that did not improve in the second half was the play of the Flashes’ bench.

Kent State’s bench was outscored 27-9.

“That’s a lot to be missing now (on Danny Pippen and Jaylin Walker),” coach Rob Senderoff said. “These guys have got to be able to help us. When we add one or two of them (Pippen or Walker) that gives us more depth. I’m sure that’s a difference, but to me the difference when I looked at the box score was 19 assists to eight assists. I saw that as the difference.”

Kent State will play Alcorn State at 4 p.m. on Sunday inside the M.A.C. Center.