Billikens, Majerus visit M.A.C.

Doug Gulasy

For the Kent State men’s basketball team, early-season tests didn’t end with hard-fought games against Hampton and Xavier. Instead, those games were merely the beginning.

The Flashes (4-2) will face another strong opponent when they host the Saint Louis Billikens (5-2) tonight at 7 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center.

“We knew when we came into the season we were going to play a lot of good teams, and we knew this team would be good,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “They’re a well-disciplined team, very well-coached and they play extremely hard.”

Coach Rick Majerus leads Saint Louis. Majerus is in his first season with the Billikens after winning 422 games with Marquette, Ball State and Utah from 1983-2004.

The results from his first season have been impressive so far. Only Pittsburgh and Missouri State, teams with a combined 9-1 record, have beaten the Billikens this season.

A strong defense has led Saint Louis to its early 5-2 record. The Billikens have held opponents to just 58 points a game and no team has reached 70 points against them.

“They’re not going to give you any easy baskets,” Christian said. “So you’re going to have to execute and get the shots you want and take advantage when you get opportunities.”

Offensively, Saint Louis averages just 67 points per game but shoots 53 percent from the field.

Christian said the Billikens’ relatively low scoring average comes from their style of play.

“They like to grind it out, and that’s what we’re going to have to do (tonight),” he said.

Sophomore guard Rodriquez Sherman said the key defensively against an offensive team like Saint Louis is “staying focused and mentally prepared to guard.”

“You have to like guarding to want to guard,” Sherman said. “If you’re not focused to guard, then you won’t guard. But if you just stay focused and guard and do the right things, be in the right spots at the right time, you’ll be all right.”

Sherman also believes the Flashes shouldn’t let Saint Louis dictate the tempo during tonight’s game.

“We just want to…follow what we do and don’t get into what they’re doing,” he said. “If they’re playing a certain way, we don’t want to play a certain way. We want to play how we play, execute what we do.”

Sherman said the Flashes also have to play smart basketball ,and the team has been improving in that area this season.

“(If) we’re bringing the ball down and there’s four minutes to go and it’s a tight game, don’t try to be a hero,” he said, “just stay solid and just follow the game plan.”

Saint Louis is just the latest test in the Flashes’ non-conference schedule. More strong opponents will follow for the Flashes, including a home game against George Mason Dec. 8 and a road game at North Carolina Jan. 2.

“It just gets us ready to play more physical because we’re playing bigger teams and a lot of talented teams,” Sherman said. “We’ll be ready mentally (for conference play); we’re already ready physically, but we’ll be ready mentally, stronger as a team, just to go out and get the job done.”

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Doug Gulasy at [email protected]