Men’s basketball crushes Youngstown State in season opener with huge second half

Adonis De La Rosa dunks during Kent State’s season opener against Youngstown State Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. De La Rosa scored 20 points on 9-10 in 13 minutes.

Cameron Hoover

Despite winning the Mid-American Conference last season, the Kent State men’s basketball team faced questions from skeptics heading into its season opener against Youngstown State.

Would Jaylin Walker continue his scoring run from the end of last season? How would Adonis De La Rosa step into the role of the recently graduated Jimmy Hall? And would the team be able to produce enough offense without the three-time All-Mid-American Conference selection?

Walker, De La Rosa and the Flashes emphatically answered all of those questions with a 111-78 victory over the Penguins Saturday at the University of Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena.

Kent State (1-0) only led by five points heading into halftime after struggling against the Penguins’ full-court press, but the offense started to click in the second half. The Flashes scored 65 points in the half on 68.4 percent (26-38) shooting without making a three-pointer.

Kent State’s second half led to some eye-popping statistics: The Flashes’ bench scored 35 points in the half, two less than Youngstown State’s entire team. Kent State scored 48 points in the paint; Youngstown State had 40 such points the whole game. The Flashes scored on 80.5 percent of their second-half possessions, good for 1.6 points per possession.

The lopsided numbers weren’t limited to one side of the ball; coach Rob Senderoff was quick to point out his team’s defensive performance in the second half. The Flashes caused 12 turnovers in the period and outrebounded the Penguins, 27-12.

“It was a really good team win,” Senderoff said. “Defensively, in the second half, we were really, really on point. We started to share the ball and get the ball out in transition. Obviously, we scored a lot of points in the second half. It’s great to see — a great start to the year.”

Walker picked up right where he left off from last season, scoring 20 points on 6-12 shooting, including 7-9 from the foul line. He also had five assists and two steals.

“It’s a bigger role for me this year with Jimmy Hall and (Deon Edwin) out,” Walker said. “I’ve got to step up and so do other guys. It feels really good to be on the same page as everyone else (offensively). That’s how we’ve got to keep it going for the rest of the season.”

Many of the worries about the front court were put to rest by an efficient performance from De La Rosa. The 7-foot center scored 20 points on 9-10 shooting, pulled down eight rebounds and blocked a shot in 13 minutes.

“He’s a big presence inside,” Senderoff said of De La Rosa. “When he finishes like he did tonight and rebounds the way he did tonight, he’s tough to defend. I wish he could’ve stayed in the game even longer, but that’s something we’ll work with him on: his conditioning. But 9-10 (shooting) with eight rebounds — what can you say, other than that he was great?”

De La Rosa embraced the challenge of following in the footsteps of one of the program’s all-time greats in Hall.

“It feels great knowing the last guy that was in my position was a three-time All-MAC player,” De La Rosa said. “I know they’re big shoes to fill. I know I have a chip on my shoulder. I know I have to perform at a high level so we can be successful.”

Freshman BJ Duling was held scoreless in his first regular season game at Kent State, but Senderoff focused on some of the positives he showed.

“He had seven rebounds, six defensive rebounds,” Senderoff said. “That was a big thing we challenged him to do: defensive rebounding. He’ll have better days, and that’s fine. It’s our first game. We had a lot of other guys step up. It’s a team game. There will be another night where he plays well when someone else isn’t playing as well.”

Jalen Avery chipped in with 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the Flashes. Danny Pippen added 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocks while Desmond Ridenour had 12 points on 5-6 shooting. Akiean Frederick scored 11 points in his Kent State regular season debut after transferring from Sinclair Community College.

The Flashes take the court for their first home game of the season against Ohio Christian at 7 p.m. Thursday at the M.A.C. Center.

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