The Kent State Golden Flashes underwent a resurgence toward the end of the 2016-2017 season when senior center Jimmy Hall put the men’s basketball team on his back and helped lead them to four wins over a six-day span to claim the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship.
Now that the season is over following a 97-80 loss to the UCLA Bruins in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Hall is set to graduate from Kent State, leaving a leadership void that coach Rob Senderoff is hoping sophomore guard Jaylin Walker will fill.
“I look at Jaylin and how he's progressed during the season," Senderoff said. “Certainly, the last month, and with these two guys leaving and we're not going to have a ton of seniors next year, Jaylin is going to be the next guy for us.
“Obviously, this is a team sport. We're going to have a lot of guys, but he's going to become the face of our program. There is some pressure involved in that, but if there is anybody that can handle that, it's Jaylin Walker.”
Walker proved more than up to the challenge of handling expectations.
The shooting guard from Detroit doubled his scoring average in two of Kent State’s four MAC Tournament games, totaled 80 points and led the Golden Flashes (22-14) to four victories over a six-day span on the way to a Most Valuable Player performance for the MAC champions.
With 10.8 seconds left in regulation of the semifinals, Walker secured a rebound off of a missed free throw, sprinted down the left sideline and into the lane, where he finished off a running jumper that propelled the Golden Flashes to a 68-66 victory over the Ohio Bobcats at Quicken Loans Arena.
In the MAC Tournament Championship win over Akron, Walker led the way 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.
In the loss to UCLA, Walker scored a team-best 23 points on nine-of-23 shooting, including a five-for-13 mark from three-point range
“Just take one game at a time,” Walker said. “We’ve just got to come back better.”
Although Walker will step into a leadership role next season, he will carry with him the lessons from Hall and fellow senior Deon Edwin as he looks to get the Golden Flashes back to the top of the MAC and into the NCAA Tournament.
“They mean a lot to the team,” Walker said. “They were a big help. We definitely are going to miss Jimmy Hall because he was a big help inside the paint, and we are definitely going to miss Deon Edwin because he was in the perimeter and on the boards. He averaged a double-double. We are going to miss him, so players next year are going to have to step up.”
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