Kent State dominates inside, takes down another MAC favorite

Antonio Williams (4) goes up for a layup against Toledo’s Luke Maranka (12) on Jan. 28 at the M.A.C.C.

As the clock ticked down in the first half, Kent State needed a putback from senior guard C.J. Williamson to tie the game, 33-33.

But the second half of Kent State’s game against Toledo was not so close fought, and the Flashes would win 84-77 at home.

Kent State has now started Mid-American Conference play defeating both the MAC East and West preseason favorites, as Toledo was projected to win the Western division and the Flashes’ beat East favorite Bowling Green in a blowout last week.

There was a three-way tie for top Kent State scorer; senior forward Philip Whittington, senior guard Antonio Williams and junior forward Danny Pippen all scored 16 points.

The starting lineup was rounded out by two more double digit nights from senior guard Troy Simons’ 15 points and 11 points from sophomore guard Anthony Roberts.

“We are a balanced team,” Whittington said. “You’ve got a lot of different good players on this team. We have five people that average double digits, not a lot of teams have that.”

The team is balanced, but Whittington had a dominant solo performance on the night.

He added 10 rebounds, two steals and four assists to his 16 points, and much of that production came against Toledo center Luke Knapke, who leads the MAC in blocks.

Knapke found himself in foul trouble early, and coach Rob Senderoff told his team to force the ball inside to take advantage.

“We tried really hard to get the ball inside,” Senderoff said. “When Knapke was in foul trouble to start the second half we were going to try to keep getting the ball inside to Phil (Whittington). And then Willie Jackson (Toledo forward) picked up his fourth foul and we were trying to get the ball inside to Danny (Pippen).”

The Flashes outscored Toledo in the paint 42-16 and when the Rockets responded by double teaming the interior, Kent State’s bigs kicked the ball out.

This double team left Kent State players on the perimeter open, and Williams took advantage.

The senior went 2-3 from beyond the arc, and for the first time in his career, Williams is emerging as an outside shooting threat.

“(Opponents) just keep sagging him and wanting him to shoot the three, so he’s been getting shots up,” Anthony Roberts said of Williams.

Roberts had three turnovers in the first half and did not score until he hit a jumper near the 17-minute mark in the second half, but he also took advantage of the space the Kent State big men opened up.

“I was kind of frustrated, but everyone kept telling me ‘It’s going to come, just keep playing how we plan,’” Roberts said.

Roberts’ teammates were certainly right, and his time did come, when he tossed an assist to Whittington and then hit a 3-pointer on the next possession during an 11-0 Flashes’ run that gave the team a much needed cushion.

Until recently Roberts had come off the bench, and that is a testament to the depth that Kent State has.

Senderoff often emphasizes how important that is to his team, saying as an advantage over Toledo “They don’t play as many (players) as we do.”

The Flashes’ depth wasn’t necessarily on display against Toledo, as Kent State only saw 10 points off the bench, with junior forward Trevell Beck and Williamson both scoring five points.

Senderoff emphasized that though those players didn’t score much, they and the other players off the bench make crucial plays.

“Tervell (Beck) made some huge plays, that charge he took was great,” Senderoff said. “In the first half we were really struggling and CJ (Williamson) hit a three in transition and then scored that little putback at the end of the first half.

Senderoff talked about how important those bench players will be as the MAC schedule grinds on, and how valuable lessons learned in these early games will be.

One such lesson was the Flashes’ struggles against the zone that Toledo ran late in the second half.

“(The zone) did mess us up,” Senderoff said. “We addressed it at halftime and we just hadn’t moved the ball the way we needed to. Those are the things that we have to adjust a little better to during the game.”

Kent State will have to learn that lesson about adjusting to zones quickly, as they play a Central Michigan team that runs zone sets this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center.

Contact Owen MacMillan at [email protected]