The most upbeat thing about KSU’s Saturday home game against Northern Illinois is the setting.
It’s a “Play4Kay” game, which is designed to raise awareness about women’s cancer. The “Kay” is Kay Yow, dthe former Northern Carolina State women’s basketball coach who was dignosed with breast cancer in 1987 and died in 2009 after three recurrences of the disease.
The game has special overtones for Kent State, whose own coach is fighting cancer. Coach Danny O’Banion was diagnosed with stage 2 lymphoma just before the season started and has been undergoing chemotherapy throughout the season. She’s continued to coach at full speed, missing pracctices only for treatment. She hasn’t missed a game.
O’Banion says she’s doing fine and the treatments have gone well. She’ll finish with chemo shortly after the season. The most obvious thing about her fight is her bald head — which she shaved herself so she could do it on her terms. She says with a bit of a smile that she’s managed to keep her eyebrows so far.
Coaches and teams over the country have rallied for O’Banion, who is well-known in women’s coaching circles. Dozens of teams — among them South Carolins, the University of Rhode Island, Ohio State, the University of Memphis and MAC schools — have worn lime green ribbons at games to show their support.
O’Banion has asked all cancer survivors or those currently battling the disease to go to the court at halftime to take a “victory photo.”
The Associated Press just did a long story on her that got a lot of play nationally. You can find it here.
It seems much less important, but O’Banion’s team is fighting its own battle just to win a game. The Flashes are 3-19 and have list eight games in a row, including a Wednesday loss at the MACC to Miami University, which had been in last place in the conference. The two teams are now tied for last with 1-10 MAC records.
In Northern Illinois, Kent State faces one of the better defensive teams in the conference. The Huskies lead the league in scoring defense, giving up only 55 points a game., though they’re pretty much in the middle of the conference in other defensive statistics. They’re among the best in the conference in turnover margin — but that’s in large part due to committing very few turnovers themselves — a league-best 11 a game.
Northern Illinois beat KSU 66-49 Jan. 17 mostly because of that defense, which collapsed on KSU’s post players. (“We threw whatever we could at them, be it a claw or the kitchen sink, to create turnovers down there,” NIU coach Kathi Bennett said after that game.) Northern also shot well above its season average in the first half, thwarting Kent State’s game plan to let the Huskies try to score from the outside.
Northern started the season 3-7 but is now 10-11, 6-5 in the MAC. It had won four in a row before losing Wednesday to Western Michigan, which leads the MAC West.
Kent State is led in scoring by Larissa Lurken, who averages 11 points a game, and in rebounding by Cici Shannon, who averages 8.5 a game. In conference games, Shannon is best in the league with 11.2 rebounds a game. She had rebounded in double figures for eight straight games before settling for just 8 Wednesday.
In conference play, three Flashes — Shannon (52%), freshman forward Jordan Korinek (54% )and junior guard Melanee Stubbs (48%) — are all in the top 15 in the conference in shooting percentage.