Impressions from the opening weekend: There’s much hope for the season

Warren

In the stands for KSU’s game at North Carolina was university President Beverly Warren, who has been a strong support of women’s sports. She also got her undergraduate degree for North Carolina in the 1970s. (Photo from KSU Twitter feed.)

It sounds a little strange, but Kent State is off to a good 0-2 start.

In their opening weekend in North Carolina, the Flashes lost to North Carolina 73-60 and North Carolina State 78-61. Some impressions:

1. This could be very solid team. Against two good ACC teams, Kent State showed they very much belonged on the same court. The Flashes outplayed North Carolina from about six minutes into the game until the last five minutes. North Carolina State was clearly the better of the two opponents, and KSU outscored the Wolfpack 19-18 in the third quarter.

The other MAC schools to play Power Five teams were blown out. Ball State lost to Purdue 80-38 and Bowling Green to Michigan State 99-69.

2. When coach Todd Starkey said in the preseason that Megan Carter had the potential to be an all-MAC player, I didn’t know what to think. Carter was wildly inconsistent in averaging 10.2 points a game last season.

She played like an all star over the weekend. She scored 17 points against North Carolina, drawing praise of Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell (“We couldn’t stay in front of her.”) She led all scorers with 22 points at N.C. State. Her shooting waasn’t great (13 of 37), but she made 11 of 15 free throws, had six assists, 11 rebounds and three steals.

3. This freshman class is indeed good. After Carter, the next three Kent State  scorers were freshmen Asiah Dingle (22 points), Lindsey Thall (17) and Hannah Young (16).

4. Dingle, the former Boston Globe high school player of the year, struggled with fouls — some on questionable calls —  but showed impressive skills. She is fearless — and startlingly quick — in driving to the basket, no matter how good or tall the defense. From the N.C. State broadcasters: “An exciting player…quick with the ball…doesn’t play at all like a freshman.”

5. The Kent State offense didn’t come close to the 70 points Starkey wants to average this season, but the defenses the Flashes faced were better than they’ll see in the MAC (except, perhaps, for Buffalo).

The offense did look the way Starkey had described it: Lots of drives and lots of three-pointers. The drives (and Carter’s pull-up jumpers) were often productive, the three-pointers not so much. The Flashes were 13 for 48 (27.1 percent) on the weekend. In his postgame interviews, Starkey said KSU missed open threes; I thought that at times, especially against N.C. State, the Flashes just seemed to be throwing the ball up when their offense didn’t work.

Post scoring? Not much. Thall had jump two two-point baskets. Merissa Barber-Smith, the 6-4 senior who probably will start against taller lineups, had just one basket, though she did have 13 rebounds in 19 minutes on the court. Overall, KSU’s rebounding wasn’t bad against taller, more athletic players. The Flashes were outrebounded 82-73 on the weekend and had more offensive rebounds than North Carolina State (12-9).

6. The defense should be all right. Starkey had said the freshmen were having trouble adjusting to the college game, but the Flashes held Carolina to only 31 percent shooting. North Carolina State made 57 percent of its shots, but the Wolfpack won’t do that all season. Neither will Carolina shoot so badly. Average the two, and it was 44 percent shooting against the Flashes for the weekend — not too bad versus the ACC.

7. Starkey pronounced himself pleased with his team and the weekend.

“I’m definitely more optimistic and not downhearted at all,” he said after Sunday’s game. “I just have to remind myself to be patient and, and where this is headed.

“I love coaching this group. We’re real young, and we’re going to learn a lot. Our learning curve hopefully is going to be a pretty steep slope.”

The coaches are learning, too, Starkey said, “learning these new players and what they can do, what will work in certain situations and how they react in game and pressure situations.”

3 recruits expected to sign Wednesday

Three high school seniors are expected to sign Kent State letters of intent Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s early signing period. They are:

  • Katie Shumate, a 5-11 guard who averaged 13.8 ponts a game last year for Newark (Ohio) High School. Newark went 25-2 last season and was ranked No. 1 in Division I for much of the season. Shumate was second-team all state last season and first team as a sophomore. She was rated a three-star recruit by ESPN, whose scouting report described her as an “agile off-guard executes in half-court game. Reads the defense, delivers off the dribble to the arc, savvy.” Her father, J.R. Shumate, has been head girls coach at Newark for 15 years.
  • Clare Kelly, a 5-8 guard from Olmsted Falls, averaged 12.3 points a game last season and 19 as a sophomore. She has reputation as one of best three-point shooters in Ohio. Kelly was third-team all state last season, second team as a sophomore. She played on the same AAU team as current freshman Thall and verbally committed to Kent State 14 months ago.
  • Nila Blackford, a 6-1 forward from Louisville, Kentucky, who averaged 13.2 points a and 8.7 rebounds a game for Dupont Manual High School, a consistent power in Kentucky basketball. She was rated the second-best power forward in Kentucky prior to her junior year by one Kentucky recruiting service. When Blackford committed verbally to Kent State, Starkey tweeted a meme of a coach jumping it and down excitedly with the message “we just got a big time commit!!! #BOOM.” I’ve followed the coach on Twitter since 2016. He had never done anything like that before. (Coaches aren’t allowed to mention recruits by name until they’ve signed.)

The view from North Carolina State

Coach Wes Moore, as quoted in the Technician, the N.C. State online student paper, after N.C. State’s victory over KSU:

“I did think the first half we played better (than in its opener against Belmont). We played with a little more energy, a little more urgency. Today I thought the second half we were a little sluggish. It was too sloppy. It wasn’t fun to watch.”

“We’d like to draw more people, so we need to play well, execute, and make it where it’s something they want to come back and see again. I don’t know that we accomplished that today.”

(This from a coach whose team just cruised to a 17-point victory.)

Notes

  • North Carolina State has started the season 2-0 for the ninth straight year. The Wolfpack beat Belmont, the sixth-ranked team in the preseason Mid-Major Poll, 77-62 Wednesday. North Carolina is also 2-0, having beaten Elon, another solid mid-major, 99-69 Tuesday.
  • Northwestern, a team KSU played evenly in a scrimmage 17 days ago, also is 2-0, having beaten mid-major power Green Bay on the road 57-55  and then routing No. 21 Duke 84-58 at home Sunday.
  • In Raleigh, the Flashes visited the headquarters of Kay Yow Cancer Fund, who has raised millions for women’s cancers in college “Play4Kay” games. Kay Yow is a former North Carolina State coach who fought cancer for 22 years before she died in 2009.
  • Kent State playing time on the North Carolina trip was Carter (74 of 80 minutes), Thall (60 minutes), senior Alexa Golden (58), Dingle (51), junior Ali Poole (47), Young (40), senior Barber-Smith (37), freshman Mariah Modkins (13), community college transfer Sydney Brinlee (11) and sophomore Monique Smith (7). Sophomore Margaux Eibel and community college transfer Jess Wallis played the last minute of the North Carolina State game.
  • Modkins is listed very generously at 5-foot-1. In the North CArolina State game, she  guarded Kiara Leslie, who is a foot taller.

MAC update

MAC teams have gone 11-8 through Tuesday night, with no really special victory. Interesting games:

  • Bowling Green 99, Marshall 76 at BG. In coach Robyn Fralick’s second game, Falcons (1-1) scored their most points since 2004. Freshman guard Morgan McMillen scored 32 points and made eight three-point baskets. Marshall is 0-2.
  • South Dakota State 80, Central Michigan’s 71. South Dakota State (2-1) was ranked No. 2 in the preseason Mid-Major Poll. Central (1-1) was ranked No. 3. Senior Presley Hudson became CMU’s career leader in assists with 465 and three-point baskets with 304.
  • Miami 60, Eastern Kentucky 44. Miami is the only 2-0 team in the MAC. Eastern Kentucky is 0-2.
  • Buffalo 69, Maryland Eastern Shore 63. Buffalo (1-0) was ranked No. 4 in the mid-major poll. Eastern Shore is 0-3.
  • Northern Illinois 89, Yale 80. Senior Courtney Woods scored 38 for NIU (1-1). Yale (1-1) was picked fourth in the Ivy League.
  • Akron 49, North Carolina A&T 36. Akron (1-0) held A&T (0-2), the defending MEAC champions, to 12 points in second half.

MAC results so far (with links to league statistics)

MAC standings

 

Flashes host Northern Kentucky at 5 p.m. Saturday and Oakland at 1:30 p.m. Sunday in Kent State Classic.

 

Kent State statistics (with links to schedule and roster)

 

 

 

 

 

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North Carolina State defense, 3-point shooting beat Kent State, 78-61

Starkey and bench

Coach Todd Starkey instructing his team. (File photo by Austin Mariasy from KSU website.)

As in its opener with North Carolina, Kent State fell well behind at North Carolina State in the first half Sunday.

Unlike the opener, the Flashes got no chance to come back against the Wolfpack, which beat the Flashes 78-61. North Carolina State, ranked 17th in the preseason Associated Poll, is 2-0.

While KSU’s opening 73-60 loss at Carolina was closer than the score (Kent led 52-50 with five minutes left), Sunday’s loss wasn’t as close. The 17-point margin came when Kent hit three three-point baskets in the last 70 seconds.

The Flashes trailed 20-7 after the first quarter and 39-20 at the half. North Carolina State shut down KSU’s offense in the first half, forcing the Flashes to take 16 of their 25 shots from three-point distance. They made only three.

Kent State actually outscored the Wolfpack 19-18 in the third quarter and 22-21 in the fourth, but the Wolfpack was in control the whole game.

“At the end of the day, they’re just better than we are at every position,” coach Todd Starkey said. “Against N.C. State’s size and athleticism, it was really difficult for us to run our offense.

“And then of course when they knock down 13 threes, it’s going to be tough for us to keep pace with them.”

For the game, North Carolina State shot 58 percent from three-point distance and 57 percent overall.

“We gave them too many open looks from three, but we double teamed when they were trying to pound it inside. When we did, they found opener shooters. When we didn’t double team, they scored in there. So it was kind of pick your poison.

“And we were kind of hoping they would miss a few more threes than that.”

Kent State made 30 percent of its shots (20 percent in the first half). The Wolfpack defense forced KSU to take 29 of its 55 shots from three-point distance. The Flashes made only nine.

Redshirt junior guard Megan Carter led Kent State with 22 points, giving her 39 for the weekend. She made five of 15 shots and 10 of 14 free throws. She also seven rebounds, two steals and two assists.

Freshman guard Asiah Dingle had 13 despite foul trouble for the second game in a row. Freshman forward Lindsey Thall had 10, and freshman guard Hannah Young had seven.

Merissa Barber-Smith led KSU with nine rebounds.

North Carolina State outrebounded KSU 36-32, ourscored the Flashes in the paint 20-10 and blocked four KSU shots.

Kent State scored 18 points off 18 Wolfpack turnovers. North Carolina State scored 13 off 14 KSU turnovers.

The Flashes open at home Saturday in the first Kent State Classic. They’ll play Northern Kentucky at 5 p.m. Saturday and Oakland at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Akron will play Oakland after the KSU game on Friday and Northern Kentucky later Sunday.

The event is part of a partnership with Akron in which the Zips and Flashes hold a  “classic” with two other teams in alternate years. It allows opponent teams to avoid a second road trip. Last year Kent played Florida Gulf Coast and Southeastern Louisiana at Akron.

Box score

How to follow Sunday’s Kent State game at North Carolina State

Audio broadcast starts at about 1:45 p.m. Sunday on Golden Flash iHeart Radio.

Video is through the ACC Network Extra, a division of ESPN. Link is http://www.espn.com/watch/_/id/3453198/kent-state-vs-nc-state. You have to be a subscriber to to EPSN through your cable or satellite company.

Live statistics are available through the North Carolina State website.

The Wolfpack went 26-9 last season and lost to lost to national runner-up MIssissippi State in the Sweet 16. N.C. State beat Belmont, No. 9 in the preseason mid-major poll, 77-62 in its opener Wednesday. Belmont was 31-4 last season.

North Carolina State trailed Belmont by five at halftime but used a guard-heavy lineup to outscore the Bruins 48-26 in the second half. The Wolfback made 71 percent of their second-half shots, overwhelming on two-point baskets.

Leading scorer was 5-9 redshirt junior guard Grace Hunter, a transfer from UNC-Charlotte. She had 16 points. Kai Crutchfield, a 5-9 sophomore guard, came off the bench to play 31 minutes and score 15 points. The only post player to score in double figures was 6-5 freshman center Elissa Cunane. N.C. State lost pretty much its entire front line to graduation.

The Wolfpack is predicted to finish fourh in the 12-team ACC, behind No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 5 Louisville and No. 18 Syracuse.

Recapping KSU’s opening loss to North Carolina

The Flashes trailed North Carolina 17-5 six minutes into the first quarters.

But the Flashes rallied to trail only 36-35 at halftime and took the lead twice in the second half, the latest being at 52-50 with 5:16 to go in the fourth quarter. But a couple of close officials’ calls went against KSU, the Flashes committed three turnovers in the next two minutes and went three-for-10 shooting for the rest of the game. Starters Asiah Dingle and Lindsey Thall fouled out.

For North Carolina, all-ACC guard Paris Kea made two key three-point baskets and scored 10 points as the Tar Heels outscored the Kent State 23-10 for the rest of the game.

“I really felt like we outplayed them” from the middle of the first quarter until the last four minutes, coach Todd Starkey said.

 

Flashes put up a strong defense and a strong effort in 73-60 loss to North Carolina

Carter shooting

Guard Megan Carter had 17 points and four assists, playing 39 of 40 minutes. “A heck of a player,” said North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, a member of the women’s basketball hall of fame. (File photo from KSU website.)

Kent State’s opening 73-60 loss to North Carolina gave us a lot to digest. Highlights:

  • The Flashes played very well against a Power Five Conference team that had more experience, many more highly recruited players and home court advantage.
  • The game got away in two minutes of furious action in the fourth quarter. Kent State led 52-50 when all that started.
  • Kent State’s defense, which had been a question mark going into the season, was excellent against a team that scored 100 points in its first game Wednesday.
  • The Flashes can play very, very hard.

Here’s coach Todd Starkey‘s message to the team after the game, as he reported it on his postgame radio interview:

“If you guys will play with that kind of intensity all season, we’re going to be really tough to beat.”

“I’m so proud of our players,” Starkey said in the interview with play-by-play announcer Dave Wilson. “We played really hard. We executed a game plan. 

“We got the right level of effort from everybody. They didn’t over hustle and get out of position. I thought for the most part they kept their composure and really did some nice things.”

Kent State, which started two freshmen, fell behind 17-5 and trailed 25-14 after the first quarter. (“Nervous jitters,” Starkey said.)

Then the Flashes thoroughly outplayed North Carolina in the second quarter to close the score to 36-35 and played dead even with the Tar Heels until about five minutes to go. In two intense minutes, the game got away.

After KSU took its 52-50 lead, it got the ball back on a turnover but itself turned the ball over on an inbound pass. Forty seconds later ,Carolina had a 55-54 lead when senior guard Paris Kea, a third-team preseason all-American, hit a tightly contested three-point shot. Defender Asiah Dingle was called for a foul, Kea converted the four-point play and the Tar Heels were up 59-54.

Thirty seconds later, Dingle missed a three-pointer, dove after a long rebound, seemed to get to the ball first, but was called for a foul. Even the North Carolina announcers wondered aloud about the call on the ESPN broadcast. Starkey was called for a technical foul when he questioned it, too, and the Tar Heels pulled away from there.

“I thought it was the best hustle play of the game,” Starkey said. “I have to find a way to not get a technical there, but I’m always going to defend our players. I just didn’t understand it.”

Kent State’s defense held North Carolina to 33.8 percent shooting, 9 percentage points below its average last season. Besides Kea, a returning all-ACC first teamer, Tar Heel starters included Janelle Bailey, the ACC freshman of the year last season; Stephanie Watts, the ACC freshman of the year in 2016, and Shayla Bennett, the 2018 junior college player of the year. Kea led Carolina with 25. Bailey had 13, Watts 9 and Bennett 6.

The Tarheels had beaten Elon, which is consistently one of the country’s better mid-major teams, 100-69 on Tuesday. 

“They have a lot of moving parts and a lot of players who can score,” Starkey said. “I thought we did a really good job of scrambling on defense. We had to run from player to player and cover each other’s backs.”

KSU pretty much took Bailey, the 6-4 Carolina center, out of its offense. She had 13 points on five of 13 shooting and picked up four fouls. She was guarded by 6-4 senior Merissa Barber-Smith and 6-2 freshman Lindsey Thall.

“We tried to do some different things in our game plan,” Starkey said. “You can’t just go and trap where every single time because they’re used to double teams. So we looked at some different things that we felt like could throw them off their rhythm.”

Notes

  • Megan Carter led KSU with 17 points on eight of 22 shooting, four assists, three rebounds and a steal. She played 39 of 40 minutes. Carter, who was recruited as a point guard, was supposed to play mostly shooting guard this season. But when Dingle got into foul trouble, Carter took over at point and played as good a game as she has at Kent State.
  • Dingle, senior guard Alexa Golden and freshman guard Hannah Young all had nine points. Thall and junior guard Ali Poole had seven ponts each. Golden and Thall led the team with seven rebounds. Thall and Dingle fouled out.
  • Kent State made 37.7 percent of its shots and 21 percent of its three pointers, both below its averages of last year though, of course, North Carolina is tougher competition than most KSU opponents.
  • Starters for Kent were Dingle, Barber-Smith, Carter, Thall and Golden. Poole, who had started in Kent State’s exhibition, played 29 minutes off the bench.
  • The Flashes had 18 turnovers that led to 18 Carolina points. They had two five-second calls on inbound plays and turned the ball over on inbound passes at least two other times. Carolina had 13 turnovers that led to five KSU points. Golden had four steals.
  • The Flashes outscored North Carolina 28-22 in the paint, with much of that coming on drives from Carter and Dingle.
  • North Carolina is a team that lines to run and score in transition. But they had only four fast-break points. Kent had six.
  • The Flashes made only 10 of 19 free throws. Carolina hit 18 of 24.
  • The North Carolina announcers called Kent State “the Flash” (not Flashes) throughout the game.

Kent State next travels 26 miles to play at North Carolina State at 2 p.m. Sunday. N.C. State (1-0) was ranked 17th in the preseason Associated Press poll.

The view from Carolina

Head coach Sylvia Hatchell: 
“It wasn’t pretty, but it was a W. We didn’t shoot the ball well. If a lot of those shots had gone through, it would have been a little bit different. I thought we played some good defense down the stretch at times.

“No. 31 (KSU’s Megan Carter), we couldn’t keep her in front of us. She is a heck of a player.”

On Carolina’s offense struggling in the second and third quarters
“We were taking threes because they were running two or three people at Janelle [Bailey] every time she touched it in there. We had some open looks but just couldn’t throw it in the ocean.”
Senior guard Paris Kea (25 points), in her key four-point play in the fourth quarter:

“Before the shot, everyone was telling me I need to shoot when I’m open. There were a lot of times I was open and I just wasn’t shooting. I don’t really know what was going through my mind during those moments. She gave me a little space, I just let it fly,  she hit me on the arm, and it went in.”

Box score

 

Flashes play North Carolina close for 35 minutes but fall in opener, 73-60

Kent State played North Carolina evenly for most of its opener Friday, but two minutes of furious action with about five minutes to go broke the game open for Carolina.

Final score was 73-60.

The Flashes led 52-50 with 5:16 to go and got the ball back on a turnover, then then turned it over themselves on an inbound play. North Carolina made two free throws and led 55-54 with 3:57 left.

Thirty seconds later, Tar Heel guard Paris Kea, a third-team preseason All-American, hit a three-pointer. was fouled, and made the free throw to put Carolina ahead 59-54. Forty seconds after that, KSU guard Asiah Dingle missed a three-point basket, dived after a long rebound and was called for a foul. Coach Todd Starkey was called for a technical protesting, and Carolina pulled away from there.

The Flashes trailed 25-14 after the first quarter, dominated North Carolina 21-11 in the second, then played the Tar Heels evenly until Key’s four-point play.

Junior guard Megan Carter led Kent State with 17 points. Dingle, senior guard Alexa Golden and freshman guard Hannah Young all had nine. Freshman forward Lindsey Thall and junior guard Ali Poole had seven points.

The Flashes held Carolina, which had scored 100 points in its opener against Elon, to 34 percent shooting and 25 percent from three-point distance.

KSU made 38 percent of its shots but 21 percent of its three-pointers.

Box score from North Carolina live statistics.

Full story with more detail and quotes form Starkey is upcoming.

 

KSU’s tough, tough opening weekend: North Carolina Friday, N.C. State Sunday

Merissa

Senior Merissa Barber-Smith, KSU’s tallest player at 6-4, will play her first game in almost 10 months Saturday. She missed Kent’s final 17 games last season with a medical issue. Coach Todd Starkey said that Barber-Smith may well start the second game of her career against the tall forwards KSU will see in North Carolina. (Photo by David Dermer from KSU website.)

Kent State’s opening weekend may be the most challenging fn the Flashes’ 44 years of women’s basketball.

The Flashes open at North Carolina, a team that has gone to the Final Four three times, at 6 p.m. Friday. They playat 2 p.m. Sunday at North Carolina State, which is ranked 17th in the country in the preseason Associated Press poll.

Kent State has never opened against two Power Five conference teams before. (A look as some of KSU’s most interesting openers is later in this post.)

The team going to North Carolina is one of the most inexperienced in recent history. The Flashes have only two players who have started more than five games in their careers, though a third  — redshirt junior guard Megan Carter — has played starter minutes off the bench. Carter is the team’s leading returning scorer (10.2 points a game last season).

KSU returns only 35 percent of its scoring from 2017-18.

Two freshmen — point guard Asiah Dingle and forward Lindsey Thall — will start for the Flashes. Two more of their top eight players are freshmen, members of one of the top incoming classes in school history.

KSU coach Todd Starkey has made it clear since he arrived on campus in April 2016 that he likes to play challenging schedules. Still, he sounded uneasy when he talked about the Carolina trip after KSU’s 77-48 victory over Division II Slippery Rock in an exhibition Sunday.

“North Carolina and North Carolina State are really, really good,” Starkey said. “If we’re careless with the ball the way we were in periods tonight, we’ll get blown out. Our athleticism doesn’t match up to either one of them.”

Prepping at Northwestern

To prepare for the Carolina trip, the Flashes had a closed scrimmage at Northwestern of the Big Ten 12 days ago. That’s a seven-hour bus ride for a scrimmage; usually the team plays another Ohio school.

“I was like, ‘I don’t care where we have to go, we’re going to scrimmage a Power Five,’” Starkey said in an interview earlier this fall. “Before they get to Carolina, they just had to be able to see that kind of size, athleticism and ability level so that we’re not shellshocked when we get down there.”

Coaches aren’t supposed to talk about much about closed scrimmates, but I’ve heard that KSU played Northwestern just about dead even. Starkey told me Sunday that the game was low-scoring and that neither team played particularly well. On his exhibition radio interview, he said Thall had a double-double in the game. In my interview, he said that Dingle struggled with eight turnovers.

Northwestern, which is coached by Kent State alum Joe McKeown, was 12-20 last season and finished 12th in the 14-team Big Ten. The Wildcats are predicted to do about the same in the conference this season. But they beat Wisconsin Green Bay 57-55 on the road on Tuesday. Green Bay is consistently one of the top Mid-Major teams in the country and was ranked sixth in this year’s preseason College Insider Mid-Major Top 25.

Northwestern has its top four scorers back from last season, including 6-2 senior Pallas Kunalyi-Akpanah, a member of the 10-player preseason all-Big Ten team.

(The scrimmage was one of the first in Northwestern’s newly renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena, which cost $110 million. “Really, really nice,” Starkey said.)

Kent State will face two successful teams in their opening road trip. North Carolina State was picked to finish fourth (behind No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 5 Louisville and No. 18 Syracuse) in the ACC. North Carolina is picked eighth in the 15-team conference.

All about North Carolina

North Carolina beat Elon, another consistently strong Mid-Major, in its openeter 100-69 on Tuesday. The Tarheels are trying ro recover from three of their most mediocre years in decades — 14-18, 15-16 and 15-16. Injuries played a big role in last season’s struggles.

Healthy now is 5-11 guard Stephanie Watts, who averaged 16.8 points and 7.2 rebounds as a sophomore two years ago but missed last season.

Returning starters include 5-9 senior guard Paris Kea, a preseason third-team all-American who averaged 19.4 points and 4.8 assists last season, and 6-4 sophomore center Janelle Bailey, who averaged 15.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks last season as the ACC’s freshman of the year.

Kea had 17 points, Watts 16 and Bailey 16 in the win over Elon. But the Tarheels were led by 19 points from 5-9 guard Shayla Bennett, a transfer from Gulf Coast State College. There she was the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association junior college player of the year.

North Carolina is trying to get back to an up-tempo style of play they’ve gotten away from because of injuries.

“I think we’re back to being what Carolina women’s basketball has a reputation for,” Hatchell said in an interview with the website Women’s Hoops World. “We’re so different from last year. We’ve come two or three levels.

All about North Carolina State

The Wolfpack went 26-9 last season and lost to lost to national runner-up MIssissippi State in the Sweet 16. N.C. State beat Belmont, another strong mid-major, 77-62 in its opener Wednesday. Belmont is ninth in the preseason mid-major rankings and was 31-4 last season.

North Carolina State trailed Belmont by five at halftime but used a guard-heavy lineup to outscore the Bruins 48-26 in the second half. The Wolfback made 71 percent of their second-half shots, overwhelming on two-point baskets.

Leading scorer was 5-9 redshirt junior guard Grace Hunter, a transfer from UNC-Charlotte. She had 16 points. Kai Crutchfield, a 5-9 sophomore guard, came off the bench to play 31 minutes and score 15 points. The only post player to score in double figures was 6-5 freshman center Elissa Cunane. N.C. State lost pretty much its entire front line to graduation.

One of the Wolfpack’s best returning players was lost before the season started when guard Kaila Ealey suffered a knee injury. She was the team’s leading defensive guard and started all 35 games least season.

Notable Kent State opening games

  • 2007: Lost at St. Bonaventure, 74-68. Team finished season 9-21.
  • 2003: Beat Rice (61-55) and Rhode Island (69-64) in Kent. Final record 19-10.
  • 2002: Lost at Rhode Island (53-39) and at St. Bonaventure (67-44). Final record 16-13.
  • 2000: Beat St. Bonaventure (92-78) and Pittsburgh (77-67). Final record 21-8.
  • 1997: Lost at Virginia 67-54. Final record 23-7.
  • 1996: Lost at Notre Dame 66-41 in preseason WNIT. Final recod 20-10.
  • 1994: Lost at Nebraska 91-66. Final record 17-10.
  • 1993: Beat Arkansas in Kent 86-81. Final record 20-8.
  • 1990: Lost at Kentucky 114-83. Final record 17-12.

(All of those games under coach Bob Lindsay.)

  • 1987: Lost at West Virgina 84-68. Final record 9-19.
  • 1986: Lost at Indiana 73-60. Final record 15-13.

(Games under coach Richard Keast.)

To follow the weekend games

North Carolina

North Carolina State

What we learned from KSU’s 77-48 exhibition win: lots of guards, lots of freshmen, better shooting, a solid defenseo

Dingle

A basket from freshman guard Asiah Dingle, who led the Flashes with 21 points. (Photo from KSU website.)

The 77-48 score was what Kent State’s women wanted it to be, but in an exhibition game against a Division II team, the score is one of the least important things to know.

What’s most important — to coaches, players, media and fans — is what we learned about a team whose roster is half new players.

Here are my takeaways :

The Flashes started two freshmen, and four of the eight players with most time on the court were freshmen.

The lineup was senior guard Alexa Golden, junior guards Megan Carter and Ali Poole, freshman point guard Asiah Dingle and freshman forward Lindsey Thall. All played about 25 minutes and were four of the five top scorers.

Off the bench came (order of playing time) freshman guard Hannah Young, senior center Merissa Barber-Smith and freshman point guard Mariah Modkins. All played between 14 and 19 minute. The next highest played eight.

The rotation was about two players deeper than the Flashes went most of last season.

The Flashes started four guards, something coach Todd Starkey said is likely to happen during the regular season.

The fourth guard was Poole, who had perhaps the best performance of her career. She had 14 rebounds — six above her career high — and 14 points, double her average for last season. She also had three assists, two blocked shots and two steals.

“She’s done a great job of adjusting to a new role,” Starkey said. “Last year she was kind of spotting up as a shooter. Now we’ve got her doing a lot more. In that fourth-guard position, she’s going to have to rebound for us. She has done a really good job listening to what we need from her.”

Poole called it a “mentality change.”

“This is what I need to do to get on the court,” she said.

Poole’s view of the team’s performance:

“We got a little slow when we got tired. We got a little bit out of control at times, and kind of got sloppy. So then we had to take a deep breath and get readjusted. But I thought we did.”

How much we’ll see a four-guard line-up, Starkey said, “depends on who we play.” Barber-Smith, the team’s tallest player at 6-4, will likely start against teams with big front lines, according to the coach.

When KSU was focused, it was very good.

The Flashes ran to a 23-5 first-quarter lead. They made seven-of-14 shots and three-of-five three-point attempts. They had four steals and advanced the ball quickly up court.

KSU didn’t push nearly as much the rest of the game, something Starkey wasn’t happy about.

“We need to do that all four quarters,” the coach said. “We let our foot of the gas, especially when Asiah went out.”

The Flashes outscored Slippery Rock 25-12 in the third quarter. Second quarter was sloppy and went to Slippery Rock 19-16. Reserves played much of the fourth quarter.

Dingle is as good as we’ve been told.

The 5-4 guard, the Boston Globe player of the year last season, had 21 points on six-of-seven shooting and eight-of-10 foul shots. She had four steals, six rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot. When she was out, the offense was noticably less effective.

“She’s a natural open-court, transition player,” Starkey said. “She’s really good at making quick decisions as things are changing, so we want to get her into those situations as much as we can.”

Dingle put it this way: “I put the ball to the floor and just go. That’s what coach tells me.”

Dingle had about three baskets when she drove, faked, then scooped the ball from below her waist. It banked high off the backboard and went it. It was impressive.

KSU showed much better shooting that last season.

The Flashes were at 47 percent before Starkey emptied the bench in the fourth quarter).

Three-point shooting through three quarters was 37 percent. Last year the Flashes shot 38 percent overall and 28 percent from three-point distance.

Last year’s numbers included forward Jordan Korinek scoring 20 points a game and making 50 percent of her shots, mostly from inside. There was nothing like that Sunday. The Flashes’ 22 points in the paint came from guards driving to the basket and making layups or passing off. KSU’s forwards had a total of four inside points.

Thall showed she did indeed have range up to 27 feet, as Starkey has said. She had two three-point baskets in three tries. But Starkey said she has to score elsewhere, too.

“She’s got to look at look at mid-range and post-up opportunities and not just drift around the three-point line. You can’t know where to find her all the time,” Starkey said.

Besides her eight points, Thall had four rebounds and three blocked shots.

The defense was better than I expected.

Slippery Rock made just 24 percent os its shots and had a tough time running set plays. SRU was just four of 26 on three-pointers, and a lot of the time players seemed to be throwing the ball up in desperation.

Kent State ran a full-court press a large portion of the game. The Flashes got some steals off it and often kept Slippery Rock from setting up its offense.

Kent State still had too many turnovers (20 to 14 for Slippery Rock).

Seventeen of the turnovers came from the Flashes’ top seven players. Turnovers have been a problem for the team for years.

Thoughts from Starkey on other rotation players:

  • Carter, who had 10 points and three assists. “She was solid. She and Asiah are still learning how to play together. They’re both playmakers.”
  • Young, who had eight points and three rebounds. “She got a little bit nervous and rushed some shots. That will come to her. I think the game is just really fast for her right now.”
  • Barber-Smith, who had seven rebounds in 14 minutes, and 5-11 sophomore Monique Smith, who had five in five minutes. “Good effort. Now they have to be able to do something with it. You can’t just rebound and turn it over or get an offense rebound and not score.” Smith had two points. Barber-Smith didn’t score. Smith was the second post player off the bench (after Barber-Smith). Junior college transfer Sydney Brinlee played two minutes more than Smith and had a three-pointer and two rebounds.

Overall, Starkey said, “it was a good start.”

We do have to remember all this came against what looks to be an average Division II team. 

The first regular-season opponents will be very different — at North Carolina Friday and at North Carolina State Sunday. Both are potentially top 25 teams.

The box score wasn’t posted online. Here’s a PDF scanned from the media handout.

Slippery Rock box score

Flashes host Slippery Rock at 2 p.m. Sunday in opening exhibition game

Alexa Golden (24), Megan Carter (31) and Ali Poole (23) have started a total of 114 games at Kent State. The rest of the team combined? Two.

We get our first look Kent State women’s basketball team at 2 p.m. Saturday when the Flashes host Division II Slippery Rock in an exhibition game at the M.A.C. Center.

Admission is free. Doors open about 1 p.m.

It will be the first exhibition game since Todd Starkey became head coach in 2016. Teams are allowed a total of two preseason meetings with other teams — either an exhibition and a closed scrimmage or two closed exhibitions. Exhibitions are usually against Division II or Division III teams. Scrimmages are almost always against other Division I teams. Last year the Flashes scrimmaged Cleveland State and Xavier on the same weekend.

“We just felt like we needed on-court game experience more than we needed scrimmage this year,” Starkey said in a preseason interview. Five of Kent State’s 14 playrs are freshman; two more have only community college experience.

“The last few years we had people who played in games, so we needed scrimmage time,” Starkey said. “This year it’s a matter of them understanding the drill — putting on a uniform, going through pregame warmups, checking in at the scorers table, the whole process of a game before we’re actually in one.

“I felt like we really need to have fans in the stands, then go through pregame warmups and all that type of thing for the first time here instead of in North Carolina.”

The Flashes officially open the season next Friday at North Carolina, then play at North Carolina State on Sunday.

Sunday’s opponent, Slippery Rock, is picked fourth in the nine-team East Division of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. The Rock — Slippery Rock’s nickname — was 12-16 last season and 10-12 in its conference. Ten league wins were the most in school history.

Slippery Rock has four players who started at least 11 games last season, including its top four scorers — 5-7 senior guard Ciara Patterson (15.8 points per game), 5-6 junior guard Brooke Hinderliter (14.1), 6-2 senior forward Morgan Henderson (9.3) and 5-8 junior guard Madison Johnson (9.2). Freshman guard Olivia Fusaaro was a two-time all-state selection in high school.

It will be interesting to see KSU’s starting lineup. Here’s my guess:

POINT GUARD: 5-4 freshman Asiah Dingle, with 5-foot freshman Mariah Modkins getting lots of playing time.

SHOOTING GUARD/WING: 5-9 senior Alexa Golden and 5-7 redshirt junior Megan Carter. 6-foot hunior Ali Poole and 5-10 freshman Hannah Young are likely the first guards off the bench, though Poole may start. She did most of last season.

FORWARDS: 6-4 senior Merissa Barber-Smith and 6-2 freshman Lindsey Thall, with 6-foot community college transfer Sydney Brinlee getting lots of time.

In a game like this, everybody on the roster is likely to play.

Radio and live statistics

The new scoreboard

Fans will see the MACC’s new electronic scoreboard for the first time. It’s huge — four times the area for video as the old one, which just wore out and couldn’t be fixed for lack of parts.

 

In a predictable prediction, Flashes ranked fourth MAC East coaches’ poll

Mid-American Conference coaches have picked Kent State to finish fourth in the Eastern Division this season, behind (in order) Buffalo, Miami and Ohio and ahead of Bowling Green and Akron.

That’s exactly the order the teams finished in the division last season.

The only surprise to me was that Miami got almost the same number of votes (61) as Buffalo (62). The Redhawks actually give five first place votes to Buffalo’s four. Ohio got three.

Buffalo reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament last spring and finished with a 29-6 record. The Bulls, at 16-2, were a game behind Central Michigan in the overall conference standings and were the only MAC team to beat Central. But Buffalo lost three starters to graduation.

The two they have back are both on the preseason All-MAC East team: senior guard Cierra Dillard, who averaged 16.2 points a game and was spectacular in the NCAA tournament, and junior forward Summer Hemphill, who led Buffalo in rebounding and blocked shots while averaging 10.1 points a game.

Miami also had two preaeason first-team members in junior point guard Lauren Dickerson and senior wing Kendall McCoy. The Redhawks return five players who started at least 13 games.

Ohio has the fifth member of the preseason all-East team in sophomore guard Cece Hooks, the MAC’s freshman of the year last season. Hooks actually started just eight games; The Bobcats have five others who started at least 10.

Both Bowling Green and Akron have new coaches. BG fired coach Jennifer Roos after four straight losing seasons. Roos was Curt Miller’s top assistant when the Falcons dominated the MAC from 2003 to 2012. She was named head coach when he left for Indiana and went 24-11 in her first season and 30-5 in her second. But she never had another winning season.

Her replacement is Robyn Fralick, who went a spectacular 104-3, including a national Division II championship, at Ashland University. Her 2017-18 Ashkland team went 36-1 and averaged 98.5 points a game. BG returns three starters but lost leading scorer Carly Santoro, who graduated early and transferred to Ohio State.

Akron coach Jodi Kest retired in April. Her teams had been 9-21 in each of the last two seasons. Kest took over a dreadful Akron program in 2006-07 and built a team that won at least 19 games from 2012 to 2016. Her replacement is her top assistant, Melissa Jackson. Akron returns its top two scorers and six players who started at least 11 games.

In the MAC West, defending champion Central Michigan, which also went to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, was a unanimous choice to win the division. Chippewa guard Presley Hudson and forward Reyna Frost were both on the preseason all-division team.

Toledo was picked second, Eastern Michigan third, Northern Illinois fourth, Ball State fifth and Western Michigan sixth. Eastern is a bit of a surprise to me; the Eagles were last in the division last season but have had the top-rated freshman class in the conference in both of coach Fred Castro’s two seasons.

Ball State’s low ranking surprised me, too, until I discovered two of the Cardinals’ best players had graduated early and transferred. Point guard Carmen Grande, who led the MAC in assists last season, is at Ohio State, and forward Destiny Washington, the team’s second-leading scorer, is now at Florida Gulf Coast.

Joining the two Central players on the all-West preseason team are Eastern Michigan senior guard Danielle Minott, Northern Illinois wing Courtney Woods, and Toledo center Kaayla McIntyre.

(Kent State, by the way, plays West Division opponents Eastern and Western Michigan twice this season, plays Toledo and Ball State on the road and Northern and Central in Kent.)

Nine coaches voted Central to win the overall MAC title. Two voted for Miami and one for Ohio. Eight predicted Central would win the MAC tournament. Three chose Buffalo and one Northern Illinois.

 

 

The shooting guard/cellist and other intelligence from the 2018-19 Flashes

Cartrer  Megan and cello

Megan Carter in action and with her cello, in photo she shared from several years ago. 

It’s not too often you catch an athlete completely off guard in a press conference, but redshirt junior guard Megan Carter was stopped short at the media day last week. It didn’t have anything to do with basketball.

“Tell me about the cello,” I asked in the last question of the event. (These things are not very formal.)

She paused.

“Definitely not expecting that question,” she said.

So she told us that she had been playing for 11 years (about half her life.) She actually had just gotten a new cello, she said with some pride. (“And she can sing, too,” said teammate Alexa Golden, the other player at the press conference. Megan blushed.)

I know no way to look this up, but there can’t be many Division I basketball players with her particular off-court skill.

Between being a full-time student and the long hours of a Division I basketball player, when does she find time to play?

“I set time out of my day for it,” Carter said, “just to escape from basketball and school, and kind of relax into myself.”

(Where did the question come from?  I had seen mention of it on social media sometime in Carter’s first three years here.)

Back to basketball

Carter and Golden were marquee players in former coach Danny O’Banion’s third recruiting class. Golden actually graduated last December after two-and-a-half years  She downplayed it (“I got a lot of college credit in high school”). But I’ve taught a lot of good students in 30 years and never had one graduate that fast. Golden will get her masters in sports recreation and management in May.

Carter, a public health major, was redshirted after she blew out her knee in the third game of her freshman year. So she has another year of eligibility.

Here’s what they had to say about the upcoming season:

What they’ve worked on to prepare for the season

Carter: “Consistency. I’ve just all around bringing it every day to practice. Last year I had a couple big games, and the next couple of games I would just disappear and have like two points.”

Golden: “Communication. We have so many new people on the team that you have to communicate. You can’t just lead by example.”

How they’ve worked with Kent’s five freshmen and two junior college transfers:

Carter: “Just setting the standard. We want to complete at a high level at all times.”

Golden, who coach Todd Starkey leads the team in toughness: “I’ve always been the type of player that will dive  for loose balls and take charges. You just show them.  They’re going to catch on. Then that’s the norm.”

On the up-tempo style of play Starkey says new players allow 

Golden: “I like playing a little faster and getting points in transition. People know that I like defense probably more than offense. So I always had the thought process that defense creates offense. Playing faster helps that.”

The newcomer who best guards Carter (KSU’s top returning scorer)

“Asiah (Dingle, the freshman point guard). She has very, very quick hands. I have to think and do stuff differently to score the ball.”

On Golden’s health (she had major leg problems in February and March)

“Things are OK.  I guess I’m getting old. So it’s sort of training room every day before practice and after practice, trying to stop the aging.”