Antonio Cowart, Teyvion Kirk and Jason Preston defended well for the first 34 minutes.
But basketball is a 40-minute game, and Kent State’s senior backcourt didn’t care what happened before the 6-minute mark of the second half.
Ohio was clinging to a 4-point lead with under 6 minutes to play Tuesday when Jaylin Walker, the Mid-American Conference’s leading scorer, got an open look for 3 and knocked it down.
“Walker and Avery have been through a lot of battles together,” Ohio coach Saul Phillips said. “They certainly played like it down the stretch.”
Ohio’s backcourt is young: Kirk’s a sophomore, Preston’s a freshman and Cowart is a junior transfer from a junior college. They are promising young talents, but they aren’t as tested as their counterparts.
Walker and Avery are veterans. They’ve been in too many basketball games to count, and they know how to play a full game, even when injured. Avery’s been nursing a sore ankle; Walker nearly didn’t play due to a quad bruise.
Phillips is starting to realize how important experience is.
“They’ve gotten old,” Phillips said after the Buffalo loss. “They have a bunch of veterans, and we’ve perpetually had a young roster here for a myriad of reasons. That’s been unfortunate, but it’s a fact. Good mid-major teams are veteran laden. It’s hard to be a good young mid-major team because you’re going to get poached by high-majors. They’ve gotten old. They’ve done a good job of that.”
Kent State’s gotten old, too, but the Bobcats weren’t trounced by the Golden Flashes. They had a 4-point lead with under 6 minutes to play. Remember? They learned from the road loss to Buffalo, and they applied it to their trip to Kent. But learning only goes so far.
Ohio has won two road games this season: a December game against Detroit Mercy and , which remains firmly in the MAC basement alongside the Bobcats. Conference games are tough, especially on the road. Ohio’s youth doesn’t help the cause, either.
Phillips loves his core. Preston, Kirk and Cowart join the young frontcourt of Jason Carter and Ben Vander Plas. That’s a group that can have success at a high level, but that success hasn’t come yet.
The Bobcats had chances to put Kent State away, something veteran groups do. They had a chance to show the rest of the conference that they’re more than their 4-11 MAC record and build off their upset win over Bowling Green from last week.
But experience matters.
“The seniors came up and made some big plays,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said of Walker and Avery.
Ohio doesn’t have seniors in the backcourt. Kent State does. Ohio was able to shut down Jaylin Walker and Jalen Avery for 34 minutes, largely keeping the seniors quiet during that time.
Avery and Walker just happened to play all 40.