Seniors Chris Evans and Randal Holt have been forced to carry Kent State through a meat-grinder non-conference schedule while their inexperienced teammates get their feet wet.
Evans and Holt have been up to the challenge for the most part, leading the Golden Flashes to impressive victories over Drexel, Nebraska and Youngstown State during a solid 5-2 start. But the veterans have struggled in the past two games, shooting a combined 29 percent from the field in double-digit losses to Princeton and Bucknell.
The four days since the Bucknell loss have given Kent State's captains time to tweak a few things offensively and regroup mentally heading into today's 4 p.m. showdown at perennial national power Xavier (6-2), which will be televised live on Fox Sports Ohio.
"Randal is used to coming off a lot of ball screens, and teams are trying to take that away. And Chris Evans has never been double-teamed in his life," said Flashes coach Rob Senderoff. "We've made some adjustments offensively to help those guys. I also met with both of them and talked about how, when they aren't scoring, they have to find different ways to help us win."
Evans continues to lead Kent State in virtually every statistical category, including scoring (16.7 ppg), rebounding (7.2 rpg), and steals (2.4 spg), and is shooting just over 50 percent from the field. Holt is averaging 14.1 points per game, and his 3-point shooting percentage (.415) is actually a little higher than his overall field-goal percentage (.398). Sophomore Kris Brewer is a distant third on the team in scoring at seven points per contest.
Junior college transfer Melvin Tabb started his first game of the season against Bucknell in place of freshman forward Chris Ortiz, who is sidelined due to a fractured foot, and produced eight points and three rebounds in 15 minutes. Senderoff said Tabb will start again today. The Flashes are 0-2 since Ortiz was injured during the win at YSU, and will likely miss about five more weeks.
Kent State's four losses have come to teams with a combined record of 23-7, and another stiff test awaits today against a Musketeers squad that has advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 in four of the past five years.
"Xavier is always good," said Senderoff. "They have maybe the best freshman in the country (6-foot-3 guard Semaj Christon), and they are one of the best shooting-percentage teams in the country. It's gonna be a huge challenge for us."
Christon leads Xavier in scoring (15.4 ppg), assists (6.0 apg) and steals (1.3 spg). He's shooting nearly 53 percent from the field for a Musketeers team that hits just over 51 percent of its field goals and 38 percent of its 3-pointers.