Bluiett, foul trouble sinks Flashes at No. 14 Xavier

Kent State junior center Adonis De La Rosa drives to the hoop during the first half against Xavier Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.

Cameron Hoover

The Kent State men’s basketball team hoped for a repeat of what happened in South Bend, Indiana, Tuesday night: Ball State, a Mid-American Conference team, took down ACC powerhouse Notre Dame, 80-77, in a major statement from a mid-major school.

As the Flashes traveled down to Cincinnati to take on No. 14 Xavier Wednesday night, many supporters dreamed they would be the next to score a big upset.

Unfortunately for Kent State (5-4), the Musketeers made their first six shots, including two three pointers from senior guard Trevon Bluiett, to jump out to a 14-2 lead. The Flashes kept it close for most of the first half, but could never recover, resulting in a 96-70 loss.

Kent State cut the lead to five points with 7:54 left in the first half, but Xavier (8-1) ended the second half on an 18-7 run and never looked back.

Xavier led by 16 points at halftime, and the game never looked close after that. The Flashes never led.

Kent State found itself in foul trouble early, as Xavier entered the bonus with 13:14 left in the first half. The Musketeers made all 10 of their free throws in the period.

Junior center Adonis De La Rosa fouled out in 19 minutes with two points, three rebounds and four turnovers.

Coach Rob Senderoff wanted the focus to remain on his team’s performance, not the officiating.

“At the end, we all went to the foul line just about the same amount of times,” Senderoff said. “To me, it’s not about that. It’s about the execution, the competitiveness and playing the right way.”

Xavier outrebounded Kent State, 39-27, drew 26 fouls to the Flashes’ 18 and finished with seven more assists.

Kent State had no answer for Bluiett, who entered the game third in the Big East Conference in scoring (20.8 ppg) and ninth on Xavier’s all-time scoring list (1,751). He scored 26 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including 4-for-9 on three-pointers, in 28 minutes. 17 of those points came in the first half.

Junior guard Jalen Avery, who scored 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting, said facing Bluiett will help the team during conference play despite the bad result.

“Bluiett’s a great shooter,” Avery said. “He’s a great player. We’ll learn from this experience. There aren’t that many guys of that caliber that we’ll play against in the MAC.”

Sophomore forward Danny Pippen led the Flashes with a season-high 15 points, three rebounds and a block in 21 minutes. Senior guard Kevin Zabo added 12 points and five assists, while senior guard Desmond Ridenour added 10 points.

Coach Rob Senderoff said similar performances wouldn’t suffice going forward.

“We had a couple of spurts where I thought we played the way we’re capable of playing,” he said. “But it’s a 40-minute game, and for us to beat a good team — to beat anybody — we’ve got to play all 40 minutes and compete the whole time. We just didn’t do that at the level we needed to.”

Senderoff praised Xavier coach Chris Mack and the program he has built.

“They’re a great team,” Senderoff said. “They’ve got a great coach, and they just did a better job than we did. What they’ve done here, and they’ve had a lot of great coaches here, over the last x number of years — it’s an elite program with an elite coach and great, great players. … You’re going to have to play really well to beat them, and we didn’t do that.”

Senderoff wanted to make sure his team remained focused despite the tough loss.

“We’ve got to bounce back,” he said. “Nobody’s feeling sorry for us. We have another opportunity Saturday, and we’ll have to regroup and find ways to get better over the next two days.”

Avery pushed his teammates to remember this defeat going forward.

“During the game, I just continued telling them, ‘We’re never going to give up. We’re going to continue to fight,’” he said. “‘Don’t look at the scoreboard. Continue to play the way we play, and don’t go outside of ourselves. Keep your heads up and learn from this experience.’”

The Flashes look to bounce back against Wright State at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio.

Cameron Hoover is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].