There was a two-week stretch in September when Kent State sophomore reserve Kellon Thomas thought it just might be best to take a medical redshirt this season.
After injuring his left knee at the beginning of the off season and undergoing surgery in April, the back up point guard was sore and struggling to make his way back during pre-season practice five months later. And coach Rob Senderoff was coming down on him hard.
“I’d had a mini micro fracture surgery after I chipped a bone inside my knee,” said Thomas, who had four assists without a turnover in 21 minutes of Kent State’s 68-51 victory over Kennesaw State Sunday, giving him 21 assists to three turnovers on the season. “They told me it’d be four to six months to come back, so I knew it’d be rough getting back into shape before the season started.”
When Thomas first started practicing on a limited basis, his repaired knee felt pretty good. But as practice lengthened and intensified, it began bothering him to the point that he worried whether he’d be able to stay healthy throughout the demanding four-month season. But Senderoff convinced Thomas to hold off on making a rash decision.
“I didn’t think he was playing really hard and I thought he was favoring himself and just not playing the way he’s supposed to,” Senderoff said. “That next day he asked me if I thought he should redshirt. Then he had his best practice of the year, with 10 assists and zero turnovers. So I told him to quit thinking about his leg, just play like that and he wouldn’t have me up his butt all the time.”
Now, nine games into the 2013-14 campaign, that brief exchange has proven as crucial as any to the Flashes success, as Thomas has already been a spark off the bench that KSU has benefited from often.
Thomas was at it again Sunday afternoon, when Senderoff turned to him to start the second half with starter Kris Brewer dealing with knee issues of his own. After a sluggish first half that had KSU clinging to a 27-25 halftime edge, Thomas’ energy on both ends of the floor led to 41 second-half points as the Flashes cruised to the 17-point win that improved their record to 8-1.
“Kris’ leg is a little sore,” Senderoff said. “He’s a little stiff and has had a couple knee surgeries. So, he’s not playing with the energy level that we need him to be and I think it affects the team a little bit.
“That’s where Kellon did a great job in the second half. It was as phenomenal of a job as he’s done all year…He’s doing a great job of leading the team and getting to the rim when he needs to and he did a great job today picking up the slack for Kris.”
With KSU playing uninspiring in as ugly of a half as the young squad had endured so far this season, the Flashes had already racked up nine turnovers (just three less than their game season-high of 12 against Youngstown State) to just one assist.
“I knew we had to build off the last two or three minutes of the first half, that I’d have to come out and bring energy for us so we blow out the lead in the second half,” Thomas said. “I knew I had to get guys involved. I also knew that once we picked up our defense, we’d be fine.”
Thomas couldn’t have been more right. After playing with little energy for the first 20 minutes, Kent State got off to a quick start in the opening seconds of the second half. A quick Derek Jackson steal put the ball in Thomas’ hands and he fed forward/center Mark Henniger for a fast break lay up.
It was the start of a 16-2 run that promptly increased KSU’s advantage to double digits, one Kennesaw State (3-7) never managed to trim to a single digits again.
“I’m just glad (Thomas) didn’t redshirt,” said Henniger, who led the Flashes with a game-high tying 16 points (along with six rebounds) for the senior’s fifth double-digit game after recording just three all of last season.
Jackson also finished with double-digit scoring with 14 points (10 coming in the first half), along with four rebounds and two steals.