KENT: Derek Jackson came to Kent State six months ago with a defensive reputation that preceded him.
But in his first game with the Golden Flashes on Friday night, Jackson, a junior guard, showed he could be counted on just as much for his offensive abilities. He scored a game-high 18 points to lead Kent State to an 84-48 season-opening victory over visiting Ohio Northern.
For a Flashes team that will need offense from every starter after losing its top two scorers from last year, Jackson produced. He added two assists and three coast-to-coast baskets off four steals in a team-best 22 minutes.
“[Jackson] had a nice game tonight,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “It’s his first game back after a full year of not playing. But we certainly respected him as a player at Central Michigan and knew he was a good player there.”
Jackson, a 6-foot, 175-pound native Clevelander, was a standout player at Benedictine before passing on Kent State out of high school to play with the Chippewas — another Mid-American Conference school.
“Kent State recruited me first and I even took a couple trips here and liked it,” Jackson said. “But my high school assistant coach was the brother of Central Michigan’s [former] coach [Ernie Zeigler]. So, there was a relationship there.”
But after two seasons at CMU, Jackson left the program when Zeigler was fired, then sat out a required season last year under NCAA transfer rules before enrolling at Cuyahoga Community College. After getting his grades in shape at Tri-C, he joined the Flashes in April.
“I felt good in my first game after taking a year off,” Jackson said. “Kent State welcomed me into its family and I feel really comfortable here. I always want to think defense first — playing the passing lanes and making people drive where they don’t want to drive — that’s what I try to do.”
The way Senderoff sees it, the amount of Jackson’s offense might vary on any given night, but it’s his defensive effort that needs to remain consistent.
“Derek’s a good defensive player, and we need him to be,” Senderoff said. “He did a good job getting steals and also making it difficult for [Ohio Northern’s] leader scorer [Branden Rushton] to score.”
Rushton, a senior guard who averaged 15.1 points last season, was held to six points on 3-of-9 shooting and committed three turnovers in 27 minutes with Jackson harassing him.
Senderoff didn’t waste time mixing in different combinations of KSU reserves from the start. Yet even with all of the lineup juggling, the Flashes pushed their lead to double digits with 8:06 to go in the half and never looked back.
The 10-point cushion was punctuated by an emphatic one-handed dunk by Jackson, who paced his new team with nine points and two steals in 13 first-half minutes to help Kent State cruise to a 41-20 halftime advantage.
As impressive as Jackson’s debut was, Senderoff was just as pleased with the play of returning starters senior forward Darren Goodson (11 points, six rebounds) and junior point guard Kris Brewer (team-high eight rebounds, seven points, four steals and two assists).
“The first loose ball for both of them, they both dove on the floor to get,” Senderoff said. “Darren got the first one, Kris the second one. To me, that’s the leadership I need them to bring. … They set the tone for our team by dong the things we really preached.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.