Senior forward Philip Whittington did not play in Saturday’s game due to the flu. Instead, senior forward Tervell Beck started, playing quality minutes, as the Flashes utilized several new lineups. Their depth allowed them to improved to 13-3, 3-0 in Mid-American Conference play. Here are five takeaways from Kent State’s 79-73 win over Central Michigan:
1. Kent State’s depth separates them from any other team in the MAC.
Whittington was the only Kent State player on the preseason All-MAC team. If they could re-pick those teams, senior guard Antonio Williams, junior forward Danny Pippen, senior guard Troy Simons and sophomore guard Anthony Roberts all deserve consideration. They each average double digit scoring and have carried the Flashes to wins at some point this season.
With Whittington out, Kent State turned to Beck to provide quality starting minutes. A player with Whittington’s interior scoring ability is hard to replace, but Beck did a serviceable job. He scored eight points on 4-for-4 shooting, grabbing seven rebounds and recording a block.
18:20 2H | Kent State 44, CMU 32— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 11, 2020
Tervell Beck taps it in! pic.twitter.com/MdpFIQdAUc
“I’m not trying to fill anybody’s spot,” Beck said. “I just come in and play and continue doing what I can do to help win.”
Beck will continue to be the preferred option when Whittington or Pippen are on the bench. He can guard players around the perimeter, while also having the ability to spread the defense (3-for-9 from three), leaving driving lanes for Williams and Roberts or 3-point shooting opportunities for others as the defense closes out on him.
15:50 1H | Kent State 11, CMU 4— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 11, 2020
Anthony Roberts sinks a three! pic.twitter.com/gDGsh4Wu6j
2. Williams could be emerging as Kent State’s closer.
Saturday night felt like the type of game that former Kent State guard Jaylin Walker would have taken over in the closing minutes. Walker would have taken tough pull-up 3-pointers and off balanced runners en route to a 30-point performance and a win. After Walker’s graduation, following last season’s disappointing finish, the Flashes were looking for a closer.
Saturday night they may have found him.
Williams scored a career-high 23 points shooting 9-for-17. He scored 10 points in the last 12 minutes on 80 percent shooting.
“It’s crazy he was 9-for-17, but sometimes it felt that he should’ve been 13-for-17 from the field,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “That, to me, is the sign of a good player. I felt that way with Jimmy (Hall) all the time too. He would go 9-for-17 and all I would be thinking about is how is he not 15-for-17?”
He continuously scored on pull-up midrange jumpers and forced his way to the hoop.
8:20 2H | Kent State 60, CMU 52— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 11, 2020
Antonio Williams takes it in himself to extend the Flashes lead! pic.twitter.com/rESHWF6JYv
“They were slower than what we thought, well, than what I thought,” Williams said. “They were fast on offense, but kind of slow on defense. So I just kept getting downhill and making the right plays.”
3. Pippen struggled to score, but his rebounding and second half effort helped secure the win.
Pippen started his season strong, leading the team in scoring early and stretching the floor with decent 3-point shooting. Over the first 12 games he scored 12 more points nine times. He has done that just once in the past four games.
However, Saturday night he grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds and dished out four assists. He shot 22 percent from the field, but added six points from the foul line, managing to score 10 points. He failed to make a 3-pointer for only the second time this season, going 0-for-4.
4. The Chippewas struggled to find a consistent scoring presence, but their fast-paced offense kept it close in the second half.
Central Michigan entered Saturday’s game averaging over 85 points per game with a fast-paced offense. They scored 73, despite their leading scorer Kevin McKay not playing due to an injury he suffered in practice.
McKay leads the MAC in field goal percentage (66.4 percent), while scoring 15.4 points per game. The Chippewas offense looked stagnant at times, but they capitalized on some timely 3-pointers and fast break scoring off of turnovers and long rebounds.
Rob Montgomery, Tavon Broadway Jr., Dallas Morgan, David DiLeo and Deschon Winston combined for 68 points on 40 percent shooting. But the lack of a No. 1 scoring option clearly hurt the Chippewas down the stretch of a close game.
5. Kent State can spread defenses thin with its recent 3-point shooting improvement.
The Flashes have shot over 40 percent from three in four of their last five games. They’re 4-0 in that stretch averaging 86 points per game.
They shot 9-for-21 against Central Michigan, but taking away a poor shooting performance from Pippen, they were 9-for-17.
Simons and Roberts have proven to be dangerous threats from the perimeter, while Williams, senior guard CJ Williamson and freshman guard Giovanni Santiago have all made progress on their 3-point shooting.
Santiago’s lone three sparked a 9-1 with about five minutes remaining in the first half.
4:40 1H | Kent State 29, CMU 23— Kent State Men's Basketball (@KentStMBB) January 11, 2020
Giovanni Santiago with the THREE to extend the Flashes lead! pic.twitter.com/OwVW3pz96e
Williamson’s improved his shooting, but only shot 2-for-8 and 1-for-3 on 3-pointers.
Williams, Williamson and Santiago finished 3-for-5 from three. If the trio can continue to put pressure on opposing defenses with serviceable 3-point shooting, that will allow them to do what they do best. For Williams that is driving to the hoop and finishing through contact or driving and passing out to open shooters. For Williamson, that is cutting and driving to the hoop for layups, and for Santiago, that is his unique court vision, which allows him to find open teammates on a regular basis.
Kent State’s next game is at Miami on Jan. 14. at 7 p.m. The RedHawks are coming off an 83-78 loss to Buffalo.