Balance ultimately led to Kent State’s second straight win. Each of the players who averaged in double digits scored higher than their averages, helping the Flashes weather a 32-point career-high from Toledo guard Marreon Jackson to improve to 12-3 and 2-0 in Mid-American Conference play. Here are four takeaways from the 84-77 win:
Senior forward Philip Whittington and junior forward Danny Pippen both played well off of each other.
Both Whittington and Pippen have had their share of quality games early in the season, but Tuesday night they played off of each other, combining for 11 of Kent State’s first 13 points.
Whittington’s play particularly carried a stagnant offense that struggled to have the confidence or ability to make outside shots early. Toledo implemented a 2-3 zone around the 12-minute mark, which limited the Flashes’ offensive production. On their first possession senior guard Troy Simons chucked a 30-foot airball as the shot clock expired. Over the final 12:36, Kent State’s offense turned the ball over six times and shot 36.8 percent from the field. Without timely three pointers from Pippen and senior guard CJ Williamson, the Flashes likely would have trailed by double digits at halftime.
Whittington stayed out of foul trouble, which allowed him to play more of his style inside. As the season progresses, staying out of foul trouble is key. Most of his scoring came off post hooks and layups, but he added a couple midrange jumpers as well.
“Foul trouble has plagued me throughout the season,” Whittington said. “I’ve been working on not trying to pick up silly fouls. We played through me, but people knocked down some big-time shots like Booman [Williams].”
Late in the second half, Kent State began going to Whittington in halfcourt sets. They looked for him every possession on the block with Luke Knapke guarding him. The 6’11” Knpake leads the MAC in blocks, but the Flashes’ inside presence kept him in foul trouble early.
“We tried really hard to get the ball inside,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “When Knapke was in foul trouble to start the second half we were going to try to keep getting the ball inside to Phil [Whittington]. And then Willie Jackson [Toledo forward] picked up his fourth foul and we were trying to get the ball inside to Danny [Pippen].”
Toledo realized it could not contain Whittington with a limited Knpake so it began bringing double teams to slow the inside scoring. Whittington passed out of the pressure, finding open shooters around the 3-point line. This approach helped Kent State separate late in the second half. Here’s an example of Whittington’s passing ability:
THREEEEE from Pippen forces a Toledo timeout!— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 8, 2020
UT 2 pic.twitter.com/GPsecxCAYG
Senior guard Antonio Williams played one of his better games, despite having a team-high four turnovers.
Kent State’s offense looked lost and confused with Williams on the bench for short spurts of rest in the first half. Each time he came off the floor the offense featured players who either relied too heavily on isolation scoring, needed setup off quality passes or were not a threat to score. (More on that later)
Through the first 15 games it has become painfully obvious that Williams is the most important player on the team. They lean on him to create, drive, score, rebound and defend. The hustle plays that he provides off tips, long rebounds and steals, beating everyone to the ball helped the Flashes go on a late 11-0 run over the final minutes of the game.
He already has one of the quickest first steps in the MAC; adding a 3-point shot to his repertoire allows him to become that much more dangerous and it appears that he has done that. He knocked down 2-for-3 from 3-point range with both makes coming off Whittington’s passes out of double teams. Up until the late makes, Williams hesitated to shoot from deep, which greatly limited the offense against Toledo’s zone. He opted to pass or drive into a waiting, already set, defense instead of taking a wide open three. That approach changed late, and if it stays that way, he could finish the season on one of the All-MAC teams.
“[Opponents] just keep sagging off [Williams] and wanting him to shoot the three, so he’s been getting shots up,” Anthony Roberts said.
Williams finished with 16 points, seven assists, six rebounds, two steals, while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. Here’s one of his seven assists:
3 pointer from Beck gives the lead back to the good guys— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 8, 2020
UT 21 pic.twitter.com/hOpB9pQlRP
Simons and sophomore guard Anthony Roberts are scorers, not consistent distributors who can run the offense well.
Simons and Roberts are willing passers. However, they do not run the offense well.
Simons plays much better off the ball, waiting for catch-and-shoot opportunities, which turn into dribble-drives and deep pull up jumpers.
Roberts thrives in isolation offense. He can score off catch-and-shoot opportunities, but he is more efficient with the ball in his hands, especially going downhill in transition. After a few transition opportunities, he scores on contested pull ups and drives against halfcourt defenses.
Simons and Roberts combined for three assists and five turnovers. They scored 26 points, shooting 47 percent from the field.
The Flashes can always count on a strong second half performance from Simons, but Roberts also played much better in the final 20 minutes. He scored all 11 of his points in the second half.
The lack of consistent scoring presence off the bench could be concerning as the season progresses.
Tuesday night Kent State played nine. The five starters each scored in double digits. The bench, which consisted of junior forward Tervell Beck, senior guards Mitch Peterson and CJ Williamson and freshman guard Giovanni Santiago, combined to score 10 points, grabbed seven rebounds and tallied zero assists.
Outside of Beck, who has proven to be a solid option when Pippen or Whittington is on the bench, the rest of the reserves have question marks. Williamson could be a quality scorer off the bench, but many of his possessions end with contested jumpers or forced shots. He scored seven points on 3-for-5 shooting over a six-minute stretch at Mississippi State. He showed what he could be, slashing to the hoop for layups and floaters, while taking an occasional open pull up jumper. He produced timely scoring with all five of his points coming in the waning minutes of the first half. He made a putback layup as time expired in the first half to tie the game, 33-33:
BUZZER!— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 8, 2020
CJ Williamson ties it up with the tip in!
UT 33 pic.twitter.com/zW1J9Y0Qqz
Peterson provides little on the offensive end, but he clearly understands his role. He secures rebounds, provides hustle plays and has a high basketball IQ. He seems to often be in the right place at the right time. If he can knock down the open catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, he will become more valuable, allowing Roberts and Simons to get more rest at times.
Santiago’s court vision is the best of anyone on the team and potentially the MAC. However, his lack of shooting, size and defense greatly limits his ability to be on the floor. He played just two minutes against Toledo going 0-for-1 barely grazing the rim on a midrange jumper. He failed to record an assist for just the third time this season. In those three games, he has played eight minutes or less.
Kent State will play Central Michigan on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the M.A.C. Center. The Chippewas are coming off a 68-67 win over Northern Illinois.
Contact Ian Kreider at firstname.lastname@example.org.