CINCINNATI — Coach Chris Mack was pleased with the successful week enjoyed by No. 13 Xavier, which defeated then-No. 16 Baylor and crosstown rival No. 11 Cincinnati in a span of five days.
The Musketeers catapulted eight spots in The Associated Press poll and seem to have put a tough loss to Arizona State in the rear-view mirror.
“It’s a matter of getting it out of them, and them getting it out of each other,” Mack said. “I think our offense at times dictated how hard we played on defense. That doesn’t happen to elite teams. That’s where we have to get to.”
Article continues below ...
With wins at Wisconsin and at home to the Bears and Bearcats, Xavier’s tournament resume already has an attractive look. Now, the Musketeers must avoid any blemishes ahead of Big East Conference play.
Xavier (7-1) hosts Kent State (5-3) on Wednesday night at Cintas Center, where the Musketeers have won 35 consecutive nonconference home games dating to the 2012 season. All five games this season at Cintas have been sellouts, including Saturday’s win over the Bearcats which was played before a Cintas-record 10,817 fans.
Xavier leads the all-time series versus Kent State 13-4, including wins in the past seven meetings. The Golden Flashes haven’t beaten the Musketeers since 1989.
Kent State has won two straight games without leading scorer Jaylin Walker, who averages 17.7 points but has missed two straight games with a sprained ankle. Walker is expected to return to practice this week.
“He said he was about 70 percent,” head coach Rob Senderoff said, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. “We’ll know when he practices and how he’s feeling through that.”
Seven-foot junior center Adonis De La Rosa ranks second on Kent State’s team in scoring at 14.1 points and leads the team in rebounding with eight per game.
Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett, a national player of the year candidate, overcame a bout with a sore back to score 28 points in the win over Cincinnati to earn a spot on the Big East weekly honor roll.
Bluiett is averaging 20.8 points on 53.1 percent shooting. He ranks third in the Big East with 3.1 3-point field goals per game and is second on the team in rebounding.
“We try to use him in unique ways, he has such a quick trigger,” Mack said. “When you have as prolific a 3-point shooter as Tre, he makes everyone better. When he hits a couple, his confidence goes through the roof.”
The emergence of Kerem Kanter, a fifth-year senior transfer from Wisconsin-Green Bay, has been a pleasant surprise for Xavier. Kanter has scored in double-figures in three of the past five games, including a career-high 17 points on Saturday.
Mack took Kanter to task for playing timid the first couple weeks of the season.
“Every player goes through their ups and downs,” Mack said. “It’s an adjustment to learn new teammates, system, competition level. First couple games, he displayed a lack of confidence. He has found it the past week or so, and his teammates have found confidence in him.”