KENT — Jaylin Walker and his Kent State men's basketball team have developed quite a comfort zone in close games.
Walker shook off a second-half shot to the eye to drain four free throws in the final 22 seconds that gave the Golden Flashes a 70-67 victory over Miami University on Tuesday night at the M.A.C. Center. He's now made three game-winners this season for the Flashes (17-4, 6-3 Mid-American Conference), who improved to 8-0 on the year in games decided by four points or less.
Kent State's last three wins have come by a combined total of eight points.
“It became another one of those games that goes back and forth. Not that we're going to win them all, but we're comfortable playing those games,” KSU coach Rob Senderoff said. “We made the plays we needed to win. I don't think [Walker] saw the basket, but he made all of his free throws.”
Walker scored 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds. He drew nine fouls and finished 13-of-14 from the line, draining all six foul shots in the final 3:39.
As is typically the case with Kent State games, the first 36 minutes decided nothing. The Flashes led 37-28 at halftime, but the RedHawks (12-11, 4-6) erased that deficit less than four minutes into the second half.
It was tied at 61-61 when Walker barreled to the basket and went down hard after drawing a foul with 3:39 remaining. A media timeout was called, and Walker spent the first part of it on the floor under the basket being attended to by trainers before eventually being led toward the KSU locker room.
When the players were called back onto the floor, Walker returned just in time to make both free throws.
“He got poked in the eye. His eye was bloodshot. He was hurting,” Senderoff said. “Fortunately it was a media timeout, and he was able to take some time and get himself composed and go back out there.”
Miami used a 6-0 run to take a 67-64 lead with 1:38 left. After Kent State senior point guard Jalen Avery made two free throws to bring his team within one, the tide turned when the RedHawks failed to get a shot off out of a timeout before the shot clock expired.
The Flashes took over with 44.5 seconds to go, and didn't have much going on the offensive end themselves when Avery (six points, five assists) called a timeout with 11 ticks on the shot clock and 24.9 remaining.
“We were trying to run a set and we didn't have anything, and [Avery] had the presence to call timeout,” Senderoff said. “Then we were able to settle down and get exactly what we wanted out of the timeout. [Walker] got the ball at the top of the key, [his defender] was late to get to him because of the screening action, and he was able to rip drive and get to the paint. They had to foul him. You can't ask for a better opportunity than that late in the game.”
Walker made both free throws to put the Flashes ahead 68-67 with 13.3 seconds left.
Miami put the ball in the hands of its best offensive player, sophomore guard Nike Sibande, who was able to get to the rim but missed a layup while challenged late by senior forward Akiean Frederick. The rebound squirted out to Walker, who was fouled and made two free throws with 1.3 seconds left that gave KSU the final margin.