Flashes end losing streak, beat Pac-12’s Oregon State

Junior guard Jalen Avery drives for a layup in Kent State’s 79-78 win over Oregon State Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017. The victory marks the second straight year the Flashes have beaten a Power 5 opponent. 

Cameron Hoover

The year was 1978 the last time a Power 5 men’s basketball team visited Kent State.

The Bee Gees had the most popular song in America, Johnny Carson ruled the late night airwaves and the Flashes lost at home to No. 18 Illinois, 82-44.

Fast forward nearly 40 years, and coach Rob Senderoff’s Flashes (6-6) played to a much different result, beating visiting Oregon State, 79-78, at the M.A.C. Center in what he described as a landmark win for the mid-major program.

The win comes one year after Kent State shot a woeful 27.6 percent in a loss to the Beavers in Corvallis.

This season’s game looked like a familiar affair for much of the first half, as the two teams combined for just 55 points on 30.2 percent shooting. The two teams traded baskets for much of the second half before Kent State pulled away with five consecutive makes, stretching the lead to seven points with 4:15 left.

Oregon State made four three-pointers in the final minutes, but free throws from Jalen Avery, Desmond Ridenour and Danny Pippen sealed the win for the Flashes.

Senior guard Kevin Zabo, who finished with 12 points, said the win at home felt good after the defeat last year, coupled with the fact the Flashes were coming off a three-game losing streak.

“It felt great, especially coming off the few losses,” Zabo said. “It felt great to get our confidence back and get this win before this little break. …  We took that seriously. We came in tonight focused.”

Junior guard Jaylin Walker led the Flashes with 25 points on 5-of-19 shooting, including 2-of-10 three-pointers and 13-of-14 from the foul line. Despite Walker shooting just 31.5 percent from the field over his last five games, Senderoff warned critics to pay attention to more than just makes and misses.

“(Jaylin Walker’s) shooting percentage is completely irrelevant,” Senderoff said. “Anyone that judges him based on his shooting percentage is wrong because he’s going to take some shots where people are going to say, ‘Oh, that’s not a good shot,’ or he misses good shots that he should make. Tonight, he had more assists than turnovers. He had five rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot. He got to the line 14 times. … It’s a complete effort, and that’s what makes him a good player.”

Avery, a junior guard, finished with 17 points, one off his season high, on 5-of-8 shooting, including 4-of-6 from three-point range.

“I just kept preaching that we were going to win,” Avery said. “We have to speak things into existence. Every time we would break the huddle, we’d say, ‘Win on 3.’ We just had to preach to our guys that we were going to win this game.”

Sophomore forward Pippen added nine points, four rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot in his first game back from injury.

Sophomore forward Tres Tinkle and junior guard Stephen Thomphson Jr. led the Beavers (8-4) with 25 points each. Junior forward Drew Eubanks added 10 points and five rebounds before fouling out.

This is Senderoff’s fourth win over a Power 5 school during his tenure at Kent State. The previous three wins, over West Virginia in 2011, Nebraska in 2012 and Texas in 2016, came on the road.

Senderoff opened postgame comments by thanking Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle for agreeing to come to Kent State for a road game. Senderoff said he “calls 50 schools a year” trying to set up a home game against a Power 5 school, and the Beavers were the only ones who responded.

Because of this, Senderoff said the result couldn’t be overstated.

“It is a really, really big win for our team and our program and, I think, for the Kent State community,” he said. “This is a big deal.”

Kent State returns to the court after a short holiday break at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 28, at Albany for the team’s final game of 2017. 

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