FOR PRINT: Avery’s overtime heroics power Flashes past Central Michigan in MAC Tournament

Nick Buzzelli

Basketball coach Rob Senderoff remembers leaving the M.A.C. Center’s media room after games last season and seeing sophomore guard Jalen Avery on the arena’s signature parquet floor working on his shooting techniques with “The Gun” — an automatic basketball rebounding tool.

Although Avery, then a freshman, appeared in 28 of Kent State’s 32 games, he only averaged 8.6 minutes and didn’t have a significant role on a team that featured four seniors. But Avery would constantly perfect his shot after home games, preparing for an opportunity to one-day lead the Flashes’ offensive charge.

And Monday night, in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament, the sophomore made the most of his chance.

Despite facilitating much of the Flashes’ offense from his point guard position in regulation, Avery went off in overtime, scoring 16 of his 24 points during the final five minutes of play en route to Kent State’s (19-13) thrilling 116-106 win over Central Michigan (16-16).

“ … Last year (Avery) didn’t play a ton,” said Senderoff. “You got to have some character as a basketball player to be able to stick through tough times individually, and tonight he had an opportunity because they were doubling (Jimmy Hall) and the ball kept finding him.”

Playing in possibly his final game if CMU isn’t invited to a mid-major postseason tournament, Marcus Keene — the nation’s leading scorer, who averaged 30 points per game this season — did exactly what he was expected to: log long minutes without a break and make improbable step-back three pointers over defenders six inches taller than him look effortless.

Avery, on the other hand, did his best Keene impersonation for the small — but loud — crowd of 2,139 fans.

“Like I said at the beginning of this year, I just play to win,” Avery said after the win. “Whatever it is that my team needs me to do, whether that’s score a lot or score a little and just facilitate and run the team, I just do whatever it is that we need to do to win.”

Keene’s contested three pointer at the top of the key nine seconds in was reminiscent of his overtime performance on Jan. 28, when he scored 11 of his 41 in the final frame in a 105-98 win.

Avery responded by going 3-3 from beyond the arc and 7-8 from the free throw line in overtime to secure the win.

Hall said the win signified the ability for him and his teammates to rally behind one another after digging themselves into a 15-point hole early in the game.

“We knew that they were going to come out firing. They have some pretty good scorers, but we just had to keep biting down and wearing them out,” said Hall, who recorded 33 points and 13 rebounds. “ … We knew that we weren’t going to fold in times of adversity, so we just had to come together as a team and just get as many stops as we could.”

For Senderoff, playing in the final game of the MAC quarterfinals on Thursday night against Buffalo, a team the Flashes split the season series with, might give his players extra time to recover from the overtime win.

“I guess it’s probably good when you play an overtime game to be able to get that extra two or three hours (of rest), which we didn’t get because we played that Friday night game at 9,” he said. “I was more worried about today than I will be (Thursday) about that in terms of the minutes.”

Nick Buzzelli is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected].