CLEVELAND -- Jaylin Walker made just three of his 11 shots in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament on Friday night, but his third and final sure was a big one.
With 10.8 seconds left in regulation, Walker secured a rebound off of a missed free throw, sprinted down the left sideline the length of the floor and into the lane, where he finished off a running jumper that propelled the Kent State Golden Flashes to a 68-66 victory over the Ohio Bobcats at Quicken Loans Arena.
Following Walker’s shot, Kent State applied so much pressure defensively that the Bobcats failed to get off a shot in the final 4.1 seconds.
With the win over the Bobcats, the Golden Flashes will take on the Akron Zips in Saturday night’s MAC Championship Game.
While Walker made the final shot of the game, senior center Jimmy Hall carried the mail for the Golden Flashes as he registered a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds, to go along with four assists, two blocks and one steal over 38 minutes of action.
Courtesy of a four-for-six performance from three-point range, guard Kevin Zabo added 15 points for the Golden Flashes.
Guard Jaaron Simmons and forward Kenny Kaminski led the way for the Bobcats with 25 and 16 points, respectively.
The Golden Flashes and Bobcats got off to quick starts from the field and three-point range, trading baskets over the first six-plus minutes of play.
Although Ohio opened the scoring when Kaminski settled down the offense and got a layup in the lane to fall, Kent State responded with five straight points, two on a layup from senior guard Deon Edwin and a three-pointer from freshman guard Mitch Peterson.
Anchored by a pair of three-pointers from Kaminski, the Bobcats went on a 10-5 run and took a 14-12 lead at the 14:40 mark of the first half, an advantage they held for the next 1:50 because neither team was able to find the bottom of the net.
However, over the next four-plus minutes, Ohio staked themselves out to a nine-point lead, 25-16, a run that Simmons keyed with five quick points, including a shot from beyond the arc.
Simmons would lead another charge as the Bobcats twice pushed their lead out to 10 points, including a 32-22 edge with 5:03 to play in the half, but the Golden Flashes closed the gap with tough defense and timely shooting from Hall, as well as a three-pointer from guard Kevin Zabo.
Kent State drew even with Ohio at 32-32 when Hall converted a layup at the 2:14 mark, but a late runner in the lane from Simmons gave the Bobcats a 34-32 lead at halftime.
At the start of the second half, the Golden Flashes and Bobcats matched each other nearly point for point, with both teams taking modest leads, but Kent State erased a four-point deficit and surged ahead when Edwin buried a three-pointer with 13:59 to play.
Hall followed with a jumper, which gave Kent State a 45-42 lead. Another Hall jumper put Kent State back in front, 47-45, with 12 minutes to play in regulation, but the Golden Flashes went two-and-a-half minutes without scoring and Ohio drew even with a pair of free throws from sophomore forward Doug Taylor.
A 6-1 run put Kent State ahead, 53-48, but a layup from junior guard Mike Laster and jumper from Simmons made it a one-point game with 7:23 remaining.
Late in the game, Zabo knocked down a pair of three-pointers that staked the Golden Flashes out to a 61-56 lead over the Bobcats, and then, with the shot clock running down to two seconds, sophomore guard Jalen Avery pulled up from well beyond the arc and buried a triple that gave Kent a six-point lead.
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