Manley, Brewer, Jackson tell fans, league to ‘call my phone’

Kent State sophomore forward Marquiez Lawrence and senior guard Devareaux Manley carry senior guard Kris Brewer around the M.A.C. Center on their shoulders after he scored the game-winning layup with one second remaining against rival University of Akron, 79-77. With the win, Kent State guaranteed itself the No. 3 seed in the MAC Tournament and a share of the regular season title as MAC East Division champions.

Kent State sophomore forward Marquiez Lawrence and senior guard Devareaux Manley carry senior guard Kris Brewer around the M.A.C. Center on their shoulders after he scored the game-winning layup with one second remaining against rival University of Akron, 79-77. With the win, Kent State guaranteed itself the No. 3 seed in the MAC Tournament and a share of the regular season title as MAC East Division champions.

Richard Mulhall

Whenever the senior trio of Devareaux Manley, Derek Jackson and Kris Brewer are draining threes and dropping dimes, the only thing left to do is pick up the phone, bring it to their ear and “call my phone.”

Founded by Manley, the call my phone gesture was derived from the song, ‘Call My Phone’ by Z-Ro. Brewer and Jackson adopted the move from Manley, and it has now become their staple move following a long-range jumper.

“It’s a special thing because Dev started it off that when we shoot a three, put it to our ear (and) call that phone,” Brewer said. “I think it helps us get the energy going and the crowd.”

When Kent State toppled Akron last Friday to punch their ticket to the MAC Tournament as the No. 3 seed and with a share of the regular season title, the M.A.C. Center was raining threes from the fingertips of Manley, Brewer and Jackson. Whenever they hit a long-range jumper, they would make the gesture, and the offense continued to surge ahead.

“We said when I make threes, it’s long-distance, (like a telephone call), so I just say ‘call my phone’ every time I make a three,” Jackson said. “We’re definitely going to keep that going moving forward.”

Kent State’s three keys to victory

Besides the Flashes’ big three, here are some other keys to a MAC Championship victory for Kent State.

1. The best offense

Kent State’s success can be most accredited to its defensive play, led by Jackson. Defense will once again be the Flashes’ ultimate key to success heading into the tournament Thursday.

Jackson said when the Flashes hold an opponent to under 65 points, they only lost one game to Akron this season.

“We want to focus on defense and rebounding, and for the most part, just getting used to playing on the floor,” Jackson said. “Get in there, get some good shots, get comfortable.”

With that statistic in mind, Senderoff and his staff place a greater emphasis on defensive play this week in practice.

“(Tuesday) we did 90 percent defensive stuff,” Senderoff said. “Shots cannot determine whether or not we win each night.”

The Flashes have prided themselves on guarding the three ball, but Senderoff said the team will have to step it up on the defensive side of the ball in order to keep opposing teams from gaining the upper hand in tight contests like the Akron game.

“The last couple games — and we won both games — we haven’t guarded the three line the way we had for the majority of the season, so just getting back to those fundamentals,” Senderoff said. “We need to bring our defense to Cleveland with us.”

2. Sixth-man success

Brewer, who was just announced MAC Sixth Man of the Year by the league Tuesday, came off the bench for the bulk of this season and instantly became the team’s sparkplug, averaging 11.2 points per game and becoming Kent State’s third leading scorer.

Although he was once the reliable starting point guard last year, Brewer adjusted to and fit in his new role even better than his old role, allowing Senderoff to call his number at a moments notice and substitute a guy who gave him the solid minutes a starter would.

The switch from starter to sub made all the difference in the team’s game plan, and it made the most sense to Senderoff from a coach standpoint. Brewer would come in to give Manley or Jackson a breather, and yet the Flashes would still have one of their most competent point guards in the game run the offense.

“I had to sacrifice (my starting position) for the team coming off the bench as the sixth man, and it’s just been great this year,” the Flashes’ floor general said. “I just had to do it and do it 100 percent.”

3. Stay hot, Hall

Redshirt sophomore Jimmy Hall has been the powerhouse of Kent State’s front court this season and the anchor of the offense.

This season, Hall has alleviated the low-post deficiencies that derailed the Flashes’ 2013-2014 campaign by immediately becoming a top target inside the paint.

Hall has also picked up some of the slack in regard to how aggressive the team plays in attacking the hoop and defending the rim, too.

“(Hall) plays with his heart on his sleeve, and he plays with emotion and brings a swagger to this group,” Senderoff said.

Less than halfway through Friday night’s contest, fans caught on to the gesture and began dialing it up every time Brewer, Manley or Jackson sank a 3-pointer.

Kent State coach Rob Senderoff, not so privy to the same mainstream melodies as his pupils, said he doesn’t mind the call my phone routine the three guards have initiated these last few games.

Whatever it takes to ignite the team and get everyone fired up and ready to play, he’s all for it.

“They got their little deal, and then (redshirt sophomore) Jimmy (Hall) gets people going…the way he does,” Senderoff said. “That’s their little thing.”

To some opponents, the call my phone fad might seem like another typical post three-point shot taunt, but there seems to be a little magic behind it. Sprung from Manley’s own goofy, yet creative on-court antics, the gesture hypes the crowd up and provides the team with a unique spark.

“(Senderoff) said you need to get back to ‘call my phone,’ so we focus on getting the energy in everybody,” Jackson said.

When these three are having a night when they’re on like the Akron game, pure electricity permeates the arena.

“On a night that we’re on, I think everybody buys into it,” Brewer said. “I think everybody feeds off us when we shoot well, and when we don’t shoot well, things tend to happen negatively, so we just want to make the threes and have everybody come together.”

Senderoff described the energy the senior shooting trio emits as “infectious,” spreading throughout the locker room and even further, into the stands.

“Three-balls is something we do pretty well as a team, so I know everybody, especially the fans, it gets them turned up when we do, and it’s just more positive energy for us, gets us more into the game, excited about making plays,” Manley said.

Together, Manley, Jackson and Brewer averaged 34.9 points per game, accounting for more than half the team’s average (66.19 points per game) and shoot 38 percent from beyond the arc. Defensively, the trio combined for 90 steals in 31 games, with Jackson leading the way with 56 steals.

“It definitely helps the flow of the game, and it gets everybody playing the right way because when we’re all shooting the ball well, we make plays for each other,” Brewer said.

Kent State’s huge win made a major statement, especially to Akron and Western Michigan, who will compete against each other Wednesday for the chance to face the Flashes in the quarterfinals at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

“I feel like we definitely made a statement, but we treated that game as any other game,” Jackson said. “We always want to win, and we still got a lot to prove.”

Senderoff said playing with the mentality of something to prove has been the mantra for the Flashes ever since they entered the 2014-2015 season predicted to finish third in the East Division.

“We came in here with a focus on winning and having that be the number one calling card,” he said. “I think Derek probably more than anyone epitomizes that, and it’s funny because Derek, in a lot of ways, you can say is the MVP for our team in a lot of ways, but he’s the one guy who didn’t get all-conference recognition of our four leading scorers.”

Despite Jackson not always getting the acclaim he deserves, Senderoff said Jackson has still emerged as a leader and plays the game not for awards or accolades, but for wins.

“We’ll go up to Cleveland…and play for all the right reasons, which is just trying to win,” Senderoff said. “Our kids are hungry to play. We’re going to go up there with a mindset to stay for three nights and that we’re going to do whatever it takes to get these wins.”

Friday’s win sent shockwaves through the MAC, forcing the league to take notice of a team that’s been overlooked all season.

“It’s the third time in four years we’ve gotten the bye up to Cleveland, and that in its own right is an accomplishment for our seniors because we and Akron are the only two schools to do that in four years,” Senderoff said.

Seniors like Jackson and Brewer have been playing with chips on their shoulders the entire season.

“Nobody gave us nothing,” Brewer said with an added emphasis on the words “nobody” and “nothing,” clearly stirred by the Flashes’ lack of recognition. “We finally got a (MAC) Player of the Week this past week.”

Brewer won MAC Player of the Week for his 20-point performance and buzzer-beating layup against Akron; additionally, Hall was named to the MAC First Team, guard Manley was named to the Second Team and Brewer received an honorable mention selection. The 12 head coaches voted for their selections following the conclusion of the season Friday. The overdue credit might be a sign that the Flashes might finally be earning the respect of the conference.

“I think the coaches who see us play…respect what we’ve done over the course of 18 games,” Senderoff said. “It’s not easy to win the league.”

Senderoff said he hopes Thursday’s turnout will match that of the Akron game.

“The student turnout was phenomenal, and hopefully they had fun,” he said. “Hopefully there’s an excitement level when we play up there Thursday night.”

Richard Mulhall is the sports enterprise reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].