CLEVELAND -- The Kent State Golden Flashes were dismissed by many critics heading into the Mid-American Conference Tournament after dropping the regular-season finale against the Akron Zips and falling to the No. 6 seed, which required them to play an additional game over a six-day span.
But the Golden Flashes (22-13) did not pay any attention to the critics, and instead focused on the task at hand, which pushed them through an overtime game against Central Michigan Monday, and then, to wins over the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds, capped off by a 70-65 win over Akron in the MAC Championship Game Saturday.
“The story is about our guys and what they've been able to accomplish here, what they've been able to accomplish over the past week, what they've been able to accomplish over the entire season, and just really, really proud of the entire group,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said.
On the way to the second win over Akron this season, MAC Tournament Most Valuable Player Jaylin Walker led the way for the Golden Flashes with a 30-point performance on 11-of-18 shooting, including a two-for-seven showing from three-point range and perfect six-for-six mark at the free-throw line.
For the week, Walker scored 29 points in the overtime win Monday, hit the game-winning jumper with 4.1 seconds remaining in the semifinal matchup against Ohio University Friday, and then, netted a game-high 30 points in the MAC Championship Game.
“Jaylin Walker, I said it to somebody, like a star is born,” Senderoff said of his sophomore guard. “He didn't get any all-conference recognition. He had 30 points in the championship game, career high. Just amazing.”
The story Kent State wrote over the last week was one of comebacks.
Down by 15 points to Central Michigan, Kent State forced overtime and scored 25 in the extra session. Then, the Golden Flashes overcame foul troubles to beat the two-time defending champion, SUNY-Buffalo, and withstood several runs in a back-and-forth game against Ohio in the semifinals.
“To me, it's just an amazing story, right?” Senderoff said. “That was all part of the story is that we had won all these games and lost Senior Night. And then, we come out against Central Michigan, and we're down I think it was 26-9, and just the resiliency.
“Over this last month, we've been up only two games at halftime, (the MAC Championship) and Buffalo, so we had been down almost all of them. Just the toughness we've shown and the togetherness they've shown, just an incredible story.”
After a hot start from Kent State, the score remained tight throughout the rest of the first half, which allowed Akron to take its first lead of the game, 22-21, when reserve guard Josh Williams buried a spot-up three-pointer from the left wing with 3:25 to play in the half.
That was the only lead Akron held in the first half, as Kent State closed on a 6-2 run and took a 27-24 advantage into intermission.
“I thought getting off to a quick start was important for us, and I thought it helped our confidence,” Senderoff said. “It also allowed me to maybe put a couple guys in to get some rest for other guys that maybe helped down the stretch.”
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