Walker propels Flashes to 16-point win over NJIT


Bball 1

Nick Buzzelli

Kent State men’s basketball guard Jaylin Walker thought he was on pace to win the Mid-American Conference’s Freshman of the Year award last season before being forced to miss 10 games late in the year due to a foot injury.

But this season, Walker’s foot has been “100 percent” of late and, after working on his shot this week in practice, he felt a big game coming on.  

Early in Saturday’s contest against New Jersey Institute of Technology, the sophomore converted an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Kevin Zabo, the first time head coach Rob Senderoff elected to run the play this season.

On the following possession, he tipped in a Mitch Peterson shot from beyond the arc and made the subsequent free throw for the three-point play. Next, he hit a 22-foot jumper from the corner. Then, he proceeded to knock down a three with an arm in his face directly in front of the NJIT bench.

After the first 3:35, the score was Walker: 11; NJIT: 8.

Making his third start of the season, Walker, who entered the game averaging 12.1 points per game, scored a career-high 29019, of which came in the first half — as Kent State (7-3) extended its home winning streak to three games with an 87-71 victory over NJIT (5-6).

“Once I had dunked the alley-oop, it just gave (me) my momentum back, and once I hit my first three, then everything just started falling into place,” said Walker, who played a season-high 32 minutes against the Highlanders. “Once my teammates started finding me, I was hitting it (and) the fans were loving it; I was loving it.”

Kent State led, 47-30, at the half, but NJIT closed the gap to nine midway through the second courtesy of a Damon Lynn three-pointer. But Desmond Ridenour answered with a three of his own to shift momentum back to Kent State and ultimately secure its 13th consecutive non-conference home win, a streak that dates back to Dec. 19, 2014.

“That (defending home court) is what it’s all about. We don’t want to lose, disappoint our fans at home,” said redshirt senior Jimmy Hall, who finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds — his fourth double-double of the season. “We want to protect our home court and try to go undefeated for the whole season so it’s just us trying to work toward being a better basketball team, too.”

For Senderoff, the lone blemish on the stat sheet was the number of turnovers his team had. In their last game, the Flashes only coughed up the basketball four times.

But against NJIT, Kent State had 22 total turnovers — 15 of which came during the final 20 minutes of play. Correcting these mishaps is something Senderoff said he hopes to improve upon before Kent State concludes its four-game home stand Dec. 18 against Wright State University.

“I think we have room for improvement, still. I think we can still get better and that’s a good thing, I think. … Look, we played well and I thought we beat a good team, but when you look at the box score and see that we had 22 turnovers and they had 17 offensive rebounds,” he said. “They didn’t score a lot on their offensive rebounds, but they had 17. … We still have room for improvement, so that’s going to be the focus here this week, trying to get better from last week to this next week.”

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