Balanced attack, tight defense lift Flashes over Cleveland State

Cleveland State sophomore point guard Evan Clayborne tries to block Kent State freshman forward BJ Duling from scoring in the first half of the game Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. 

Cameron Hoover

The Kent State men’s basketball team needed role players to step up Saturday night, as leading scorer Jaylin Walker (17.7 ppg) was sidelined for the second straight game with an ankle injury.

The Flashes’ role players filled the extra minutes vacated by Walker, as four players scored in double digits and added lockdown defense to lead Kent State (5-3) over Cleveland State, 72-62.

Senior guard Kevin Zabo took full advantage of the opportunity. He played 33 minutes, one off the season high he got in the Flashes’ last game against Norfolk State, the other contest Walker missed.

Zabo’s season-high 17 points on 5-for-12 shooting (6-for-6 on free throws) led the team, and he added three rebounds and an assist.

“I didn’t see it as ‘OK, I’m replacing (Walker),” Zabo said. “No one can replace him. He’s one hell of a player. I’m just trying to come in and contribute in a lot of different ways. I’ve got to be a lot more aggressive with him out, but it was a great team effort. … I’m happy with how we played.”

Junior center Adonis De La Rosa continued his strong start to the season with 16 points, including 11 in the second half. He added seven rebounds, including four on offense, and a team-high three assists.

De La Rosa’s passing out of double teams in the post led his teammates to many open looks.

“We practice against the double teams a lot,” De La Rosa said. “I felt comfortable out there. I just made the right plays, and guys were in the right position.”

Coach Rob Senderoff was happy with the way the team responded to being without Walker.

“It’s not easy when a lot of the offense is geared toward running (Walker) off screens,” Senderoff said. “In the long run, it’ll help us because it gives Kevin (Zabo) more confidence, Jalen Avery more confidence.”

Senderoff said the team’s success in the past two games gives Walker more confidence in his teammates going forward.

“We won both games (while Walker was out),” Senderoff said. “It gives him more confidence in these other guys that they’re just as capable on any given night as well.”

Avery chipped in with 15 points, three assists and no turnovers. The junior point guard has had more assists than turnovers in every game this season, and this is his fifth game of the season without a turnover.

Zabo said taking care of the ball is one of the most important aspects for the two point guards.

“Me and Jalen — we have great chemistry on the court,” Zabo said. “We talk a lot. That’s something we take very seriously: not turning the ball over and leading our team while we’re on the court together. Tonight, he did a great job. He hit big shots.”

Senderoff didn’t have a concrete update on a return for Walker.

“We’ll have a better idea on Monday,” Senderoff said. “I spoke with him (Friday), and he said he was at about 70 percent. I’m hoping he’ll be able to play soon, but I really don’t know. We’ll know when he practices.”

The Flashes return to the court looking for an upset over No. 21 Xavier at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Cintas Center.

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