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Walker hits game-winner to eliminate Ohio

Golden Flashes top Bobcats, 68-66, in MAC semifinals

CLEVELAND – Jaylin Walker finished near the hoops as he crashed into a pair of Ohio defenders, giving Kent State a 68-66 victory against Ohio in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

Walker’s basket came with 4.1 seconds left, and after an Ohio timeout, Jaaron Simmons was unable to get off a shot as he dribbled into a double team near the 3-point line at the buzzer. Simmons had tied the game by making the first of two free throws with 10 seconds to go.

“I thought we made the plays to win it,” Ohio coach Saul Phillips said. “Didn't go our way. We're not going to make an excuse. I don't think I've had a group that showed the resiliency and togetherness throughout this whole process. Every fiber of my being is proud of what they accomplished.”

Plagued by Jason Carter’s foul trouble, Ohio (20-11) saw an early lead turn into an eight-point deficit on Jalen Avery’s 3-pointer with 2:14 remaining, but the Bobcats were able to make a push.

Simmons hit a jumper, and after Walker missed two from the foul line, Simmons drained a 3-pointer to make it 64-61 with 1:33 remaining. Carter fouled out as Jimmy Hall drew and made two free throws with 1:02 left.

Simmons made the first of two foul shots, and after a Doug Taylor offensive rebound, Kenny Kaminski hit a 3-pointer to make it 66-65 with 48 seconds to go. Avery missed for Kent State with 22 seconds left, and Simmons was bumped as he began to make a move toward the hoop, allowing him to tie the game by making a single shot at the line with 10 seconds left.

From there, Walker it took it straight toward the basket.

“My mindset was just get in there to the hole, trying to create contact, at least if they foul, I go to the free throw line,” Walker said.

Simmons finished 10-of-20 shooting with 25 points and seven rebounds but just one assist and four turnovers.

“He shot 50 percent from the floor,” Phillips said. “He's, what, third in the nation in assists. I don't question what Jaaron does out there ever. He's my point guard. Does he push it redline every once in a while? Absolutely. Are we anywhere near the spot to be in the game if he didn't do that? No.”

Kaminski scored 16 points while going 4 of 7 from long range. They were the only two in double figures as Carter was limited to four points and three rebounds in 21 minutes.

Hall had 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Kevin Zabo finished with 15 points while making 4 of 6 3-pointers for the Golden Flashes. Walker was just 3 of 11 from the field, including 0 for 6 from deep, and went just 3 of 6 on free throws while scoring nine points. He added nine rebounds.

No. 6 seed Kent State (21-13) advances to the championship game and faces No. 1 Akron (26-7) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena.

No. 2 seed Ohio used a 9-0 run in the first half to take the lead. With the game tied at 16, Taylor made two free throws, Simmons followed with a 3-pointer and then a runner in the lane. Gavin Block made it 25-16 by making two free throws at the 8:29 mark.

Following a Simmons basket with 5:03 left to put Ohio up by 10, Avery and Zabo hit back-to-back 3-pointers to turn the tide. Hall made two free throws and then a layup to cap a 10-0 run that tied the game, before a Simmons jumper made it 34-32 in favor of the Bobcats at the break.

While most of the second half was tight, Kent State started to get some separation late. Zabo’s 3-pointer made it 58-54 with 4:38 to go, and after a Simmons bucket, Zabo hit another from deep. It was followed by the Avery trey that pushed the lead to eight.

Carter picked up his third foul less than two minutes into the second half, and his fourth foul came with still 11:26 remaining. Taylor came up big in his place, scoring eight points with six rebounds in 19 minutes.

“It hurt here and there, but at the same time, Doug stepped up and we fought all the way to the end,” Kaminski said. “I couldn't be more proud of this group of guys, and how we reacted to the adversity today. Personally, I thought the refs were horrible today. I thought there was a lot both ways, but at the end of the day, that's completely out of our control.”

The Golden Flashes’ Deon Edwin was held to five points and five rebounds in 11 minutes because of foul trouble.

Ohio outshot Kent State, 44.4 percent to 41.4 percent, but the Golden Flashes had more offensive rebounds, 11-4, and more 3-pointers, 9-6.

The Bobcats won in the quarterfinals on a Kaminski jumper with seven seconds left. Afterward, Toledo’s Jonathan Williams crashed into Block as he attempted to win the game in the final seconds, but there was no call. Again, Block stood his ground as Walker came charging forward, and once more, there was no call, but this time, the ball went in.

“That's two nights in a row the game's ended like that, where there's a lot of contact at the front of the rim,” Phillips said. “I had a good chance to look at the one last night, and I know how I feel about that one, and I actually caught it in the monitor here and I feel the same way about this one. It didn't go our way. And you know what? If life was fair, Tony (Campbell) wouldn't have broken his foot either, so start making excuses, no big deal. If you're men, you handle it, you move on.”

The tournament championship game will be broadcast on ESPN2. Ohio likely will receive an invitation to play in the College Basketball Invitational or the College Insider Tournament.

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