KENT — The stage was set for a special night in the life of Rob Senderoff on Friday at the M.A.C. Center.
Jaylin Walker made sure the evening went off without a hitch. Kent State's senior shooting guard drew a foul and made two free throws with 3.3 seconds left to give his team a 70-68 victory over Albany that made Senderoff the winningest coach in program history, at the expense of his alma mater.
The Golden Flashes' eighth-year mentor passed Jim McDonald (148-139 from 1982-92) by earning his 149th victory against 100 defeats. Walker scored 26 points, including Kent State's final eight down the stretch, to make it all possible.
“[Walker] has had a lot to do with a lot of them,” Senderoff said with a smile.
The Flashes are 10-2 for the first time since 2007-08, a fact that thrills Senderoff more than his coaching record.
“I told the guys after the game the thing that's important to me is that this team's 10-2. That's how I feel,” said Senderoff, a 1995 Albany graduate. “It is pretty cool that the school I went to — I couldn't play there, wasn't good enough — that's who we happen to face 20-some-odd years later to allow me to have a record here. It's cool for me. I'm not going to pretend it's not.
“But I hate when things are about me, because they're not. It's about the team and our program and our school. For this team in particular, I'm really proud with the adversity we faced [the surprise loss of two starting post players, and Walker's five-game suspension to start the year] ... for this team to be 10-2 is a great accomplishment for this group. That's what I'm really proud about.”
Any thoughts of win No. 149 coming easy were erased after the Flashes missed 10 of their first 11 shots and fell behind the Great Danes (4-10) 16-5. Junior forward Philip Whittington and Walker provided a huge spark off the bench with 10 points each, helping Kent State take a 34-27 lead, but Albany closed the half on a 7-0 to tie it 34-34.
The Flashes led 51-43 with under 10 minutes to play, but the Great Danes once again fought back behind standout junior guard Ahmad Clark and the four freshmen accompanying him in the starting lineup.
Clark, who scored a game-high 27 points, made two free throws with 1:49 to go to put Albany ahead 66-65. After the teams exchanged stops, Walker went to work.
First he buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key, his fourth of the game, to give the Flashes a 68-66 lead with 42 seconds remaining.
Clark responded with two throws after drawing a foul to tie the score with 24.8 seconds remaining.
The Flashes played for the last shot. Walker sprang open at the top of the arc and caught a pass with a taller but wider defender on him in senior forward Devonte Campbell. Walker drove and was fouled with with 3.3 seconds to go.
Walker, an 86 percent free-throw shooter this season, calmly made two more to put KSU ahead by two.
Clark's heave from midcourt at the buzzer was well off the mark, and the Flashes survived.
“We knew it was going to be a gut-it-out type of game, but we got the victory” said Whittington, who finished with 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
KSU won despite getting outrebounded 39-28, and receiving just one point from second-leading scorer Jalen Avery — who did have five assists.