Men’s basketball remains optimistic despite slow start

Kent+State+junior+center+Adonis+De+La+Rosa+attempts+to+steal+the+ball+from+Ohio+Christian+freshman+center+Genesis+Williams+in+the+second+half+of+the+game+Thursday%2C+Nov.+16%2C+2017.

Kent State junior center Adonis De La Rosa attempts to steal the ball from Ohio Christian freshman center Genesis Williams in the second half of the game Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017.

Cameron Hoover

Kent State men’s basketball players dove across the floor for loose balls faster and cheered their teammates on harder at practice Monday.

Coach Rob Senderoff said a good practice might translate into a game performance to turn around the team’s recent form.

Despite a hot start that saw the team win its first three games by a combined 91 points thanks to 50 percent shooting, the Flashes stumbled in their next three games, all on the road or at neutral sites.

A disappointing loss to Southeastern Louisiana was followed by defeats to two teams in the top 100 rankings on KenPom.com, Loyola Chicago and Valparaiso, at the Savannah Invitational.

The defending Mid-American Conference champions were left with unanswered questions about the future of the season.

Senderoff blamed poor second halves for the team’s three losses. In the second half, the Flashes were outscored by Southeastern Louisiana by 14, Valparaiso by three and Loyola Chicago by 12.

“For 60 of the 80 minutes (the team played at the Savannah Invitational), we competed at a high level,” Senderoff said. “We just came up short for the second 20 minutes of the Loyola game. We didn’t compete the way we need to. … I think we’re trying to learn how to win.”

The Flashes sit in 115th in the country with 68.7 points allowed per game. The team’s 4.5 blocks per game ties them for 77th in the nation, and they’re 120th in the country with 15.33 turnovers forced per game.

“Defensively, we have to get better,” Senderoff said. “Our execution has to get better. But this is a process. It’s a long season where over the course of the year you’re going to have some ups and downs and face some adversity, and you have to respond to that.”

Senderoff praised his team’s ability to take care of the ball, and junior point guard Jalen Avery has been the key factor in that regard. His 14.5 assist-to-turnover ratio (29 assists to 2 turnovers) leads the country.

“We’re in an interesting space right now,” Avery said. “We’re competing, but we’re just not competing for the entire 40 minutes. We’re playing good first halves, but we’re just not finishing games the way we need to be.”

One of the major questions regarding Kent State heading into the season was the play of junior center Adonis De La Rosa as he filled into the role vacated by the departure of Jimmy Hall.

The seven-footer has averaged 13 points and 7.8 rebounds per game on 69.4 percent shooting, including a team-best 84.8 percent from the free throw line. He will have to cut down on his turnovers moving forward; his 20 lead the team.

De La Rosa urged patience for himself and the team.

“I’ve been playing pretty good, but I can play better,” he said. “I’m not at my best yet. There’s still a lot of room for improvement and for growth.

“I need to fine tune things, making the right reads, making the right plays where they’re needed. I want to be able to score a lot more and get through our sets fully.”

The Flashes will be without leading scorer Jaylin Walker for at least the game against Norfolk State with an ankle injury. Walker is not expected to miss extended time.

As practiced closed, Avery emphasized his team’s desire to end the three-game losing streak.

“We have a lot of winning mindsets on the team,” he said. “We’re just not executing defensively and offensively the way we need to. It’s a great thing being a part of a team that wants to win.”

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