December 7, 2017 / 2:39 AM / in 9 days

Kanter, Bluiett help No. 13 Xavier ease by Kent State

Kanter, Bluiett help No. 13 Xavier ease by Kent State

CINCINNATI -- After a slow start to his Xavier career, Kerem Kanter is playing with a ton of confidence at both ends of the floor. Most important, his teammates now trust him.

On Wednesday night, Kanter scored a career-high 20 points and had eight rebounds, and Trevon Bluiett scored a game-high 26 points, lifting No. 13 Xavier to a 96-70 victory over Kent State at Cintas Center.

Kanter, a graduate transfer from Wisconsin Green-Bay, had a career-high 17 points in Saturday’s win over Cincinnati. He has scored in double figures for the fourth time in six games.

“I just think he’s got to continue doing what he does,” Musketeers coach Chris Mack said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence. Slowly but surely, his teammates have a ton of confidence in him.”

Xavier (8-1) had 13-point victories over No. 16 Baylor and No. 11 Cincinnati in a span of four days last week, and overcame a sluggish start to win its third straight.

Mack wanted to eliminate any thoughts of a letdown, so he sent a text to his players after Ball State upset No. 9 Notre Dame on Tuesday, saying there would be no such occurrence for the Musketeers.

“That’s been our mentally all week, is that we’re not going to let a big week last week affect today’s game,” said Xavier forward Sean O‘Mara, who scored 14 points. “We did a good job of that. We had some letdowns here or there, but that was just us adjusting to the officiating and how it was being called early on.”

Turnovers have been an issue for the Musketeers at times this season, but they had only four turnovers with 11 minutes left on Wednesday and finished with nine.

Xavier, meanwhile, scored 22 points off 12 Kent State turnovers.

The Golden Flashes (5-4) were led by Danny Pippen, who scored 15 points, and Jalen Avery, who had 13. Avery is from nearby Covington, Ky.

“It was something I was waiting for to play in front of my family,” Avery said. “It was a great experience.”

Xavier finished the night shooting 53.2 percent, including 5 of 5 in the second half from Kanter, who was 2 of 7 before halftime.

“I would say it’s the best basketball I’ve played,” said Kanter, who scored 16 second-half points. “I‘m a senior. I didn’t let the first half get to me. I came out in the second half like it was 0 for 0.”

Kanter’s teammates got off to a fast start.

The Musketeers, who rank second nationally in field-goal percentage, began the game by making their first six shots, including 3 of 3 from Bluiett, who scored 20 or more points for the seventh time this season.

Quentin Goodin’s drive and jam put Xavier ahead 11-0.

The Golden Flashes didn’t score until Avery’s layup with 16:42 remaining in the first half. A technical foul on Pippen led to two Bluiett free throws, halting a 9-0 run by Kent State.

There were 15 fouls called in the first 10 minutes. The Golden Flashes were in the bonus with 11:32 left in the half.

“We competed but not at the level we needed to,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “(Xavier) is an elite program with a great coach. To me, it is about execution and competitiveness.”

Kent State kept the score close through most of the first half behind seven points from Avery, who had success getting to the rim.

But O‘Mara came off the bench and scored eight points in the final four minutes of the half to put Xavier ahead 48-32 at halftime.

Bluiett scored 17 points in the first half.

The Musketeers’ run grew to 15-0 on Jones’ tip-in thatincreased their lead to 55-32. Jones picked up his fourth foul moments later. He finished with 13 points.

Kent State started the second half cold, going scoreless until Desmond Ridenour’s dunk with 15:44 left.

Golden Flashes 7-foot center Adonis De La Rosa fouled out with 13:09 remaining in the game, leaving with two points and three rebounds, and Xavier pulled away.

Xavier went a season-best 24 of 25 from the free throw line. The only miss was by freshman guard Paul Scruggs.

“Paul took some grief in the locker room for being the guy that missed,” Mack said.

NOTES: Kent State G Jaylin Walker, the team’s leading scorer, missed his third straight game with a sprained ankle. ... Xavier has won 36 straight nonconference home games dating to the 2012-13 season, including seven straight against the Bearcats. ... Xavier went 13 of 13 from the free-throw line to begin the game. ... The Musketeers lead the series 14-4, with wins in the past eight meetings. ... Xavier improved to 8-0 this season when outrebounding an opponent.

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