CLEVELAND -- There is just something about playing a conference tournament in an NBA arena that inspires Kent State junior guard Jaylin Walker.
The Most Valuable Player of the 2017 Mid-American Conference Tournament, Walker is up to his old tricks again after the games shifted from campus sites to Quicken Loans Arena, the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Walker scored a game-high 19 points in helping the Golden Flashes (17-16) earn a 76-73 victory over Ball State (19-13) in the quarterfinals Thursday.
“March Madness,” Walker said about the reason for his productivity.
PHOTOS: Kent State advances to MAC Tournament semis with win over Ball State
On the way to a win over Akron in last year’s MAC Championship Game, 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, and then, a game-high 30 in the MAC Championship Game.
“Win or go home, that's my mindset, so I’ve got to bring it every night and win,” Walker said.
Although the Golden Flashes had a sub-.500 record heading into Monday’s win over Northern Illinois at The M.A.C. Center in Kent, they have found formulas that work for winning close games.
In games decided by 10 points or less, the Golden Flashes are 12-8, and they have posted an 8-3 record in contests with a margin of victory of five or fewer points.
“We are more together in those type of situations, and we know that we need to win those games in order to move on into the next round and further on,” Walker said.
In the quarterfinal win over Ball State, Kent State got double-digit scoring production from four of its five starters, including the 19 points from Walker, who was four of 10 from three-point range, while fellow guards Kevin Zabo and Jalen Avery added 17 and 15 points, respectively.
Center Adonis De La Rosa tallied a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds to go along with an assist and a pair of steals. De La Rosa made only two field goals, but drew eight fouls and knocked down 13 of his 16 attempts from the charity stripe.
“That's sort of how we won a lot of games here,” Coach Rob Senderoff said of working through another close win. “I think it can't be understated or overstated enough. These guys are tough, they're resilient, and they compete.
“When it's a close game, we have a firm belief that we're going to find a way to win. I'm not saying we're perfect. We're a flawed team. That goes without saying. We're not perfect, but when it comes to competitive spirit, you really can't question anyone in the locker room because you don't win as many close games as we've won unless you've got a real, real competitive spirit and a toughness and a belief in each other to find a way to win. All the credit goes to the players on that.”