By Joe Clark, Sports Editor
Xavier men’s basketball had a rocky second game of the season but managed to secure with a 73-59 win over Kent State on Friday.
Xavier’s first bucket came at the 17:36 mark when sophomore forward Colby Jones scored off a putback, but Xavier still trailed 8-2 at the under-16 media timeout. The lead grew to eight at 10-2 before a three by senior guard Paul Scruggs cut it in half with a three with just under 15 minutes to play. Kent State answered back with a made three from Temple transfer Justyn Hamilton.
Kent State grew their lead to ten at 29-19 with 6:29 left in the first half, largely due to Xavier’s sloppiness with the ball. The Musketeers had 13 first half turnovers, 11 of those coming within the first 13 minutes. As a whole, Xavier’s first half offense was sloppy, as they only shot 35.5% and 16.7% from three, and the Golden Flashes went into the half with a 35-31 lead.
Xavier’s shooting was better in the second half, but the biggest difference was the defensive intensity. Xavier Head Coach Travis Steele said the team changed their ball screen defense from hard hedging to switching, and Xavier held Kent State to just 23 second half points. Steele singled out sophomore Dieonte Miles and junior Jack Nunge as two players who excelled after the switch.
Xavier immediately went on a 5-0 run to start the half to tie the game at 36 after Jerome Hunter had three offensive rebounds before scoring on the first possession of the second half.
“Going into this game, Kent State, kind of the themes for us, they try to bully you,” Steele said. “To set the tone on the glass like that, to start the second half was huge. We made a big point of emphasis of that going into the game, and obviously we finished with 20 offensive rebounds, and we out rebounded them 48-29,” Steele added.
Kent State made it a 41-36 game after a layup by Malique Jacobs and a three by Giovanni Santiago. The biggest sequence of the game came from 10:25 to 7:22, when Xavier went from a 52-52 tie to a 60-52 lead. Jones scored and then kept the possession alive with two offensive rebounds which were fed to Scruggs who finished through contact and got an and-one opportunity. He hit the free throw to make it 57-52.
Another jumper from Jones extended the lead to 59-52. The lead got up to 14 at 68-54 with 2:59 left, as Xavier allowed just seven points from 10:25 to the rest of the game and closed out a 73-59 win.
The win moved the Musketeers to 2-0, and they’ll look to stay undefeated when they take on No. 17 Ohio State at home on Thursday in what will be a packed Cintas Center.