The Flashes get their first look Wednesday at Buffalo, a team that was picked to win the MAC East but one that has had an up-and-down season.
The Bulls are 14-9, 7-5 in the conference, and are in third place in the East behind Ohio and Akron. They lost four or their first six conference games but have won fix of their last six.
They’re one of the bigger and stronger teams Kent State will face this year. Buffalo is led by 6-1 senior forward Krsten Sharkey, who in conference games ranks among the Mid-American Conference top five in four categories: second in offensive rebounds (4.1), third in scoring (17.7) and rebounding (9.2), and fourth in minutes played (35.3). 5-10 junior guard Mackenzie Loesing is 11th in conference play in scoring with a 13.5 average. Six-foot sophomore forward Alexus Malone averages 9.6 points a game. 6-2 senior forwrd Christa Baccas is third in the conference with 1.8 blocks a game, with Sharkey and Malone also in the top 15.
As a team, Buffalo is pretty much in the middle of the pack offensively. Defensively, the Bulls are second in the conference in field goal percentage (35.30) third in three-point field goal percent (28.8). They’re third in rebounding maring at +3.8.
Kent State is coming off of its second victory of the season, a last-second 54-52 win over Northern Illinois at the MAC Center Saturday. The Flashes are 10th in the conference at 2-10 and 4-19 overall.
In conference play, senior center Cici Shannon leads the league in rebounding (11.2 per game) and blocked shots (2.0). She’s 23rd in the league in scoring (9.9). Kent’s Larissa Lurken is 27th (9.7) and Jordan Korinek 30th (9.5). Senior guard Mikell Chinn is second in the conference with 4.1 assists per game and is third in the conference in assist-turnover ratio.
Seniors Shannon, Chinn and Montia Johnson were key in Saturday’s victory. Shannon had 11 points and 11 rebounds, Johnson had 9 points and Chinn made six key free throws in the second half.
The three hadn’t played together before between Thanksgiving and last Wednesday’s game against Miami. First Chinn, then Johnson missed more than a month with concussions. Kent Assistant Coach Geoff Lanier said even practice was going better with a “good full roster.”
The roster does have one fewer player on it. Lanier confirmed that freshman guard Madison Ridout had left the team with “serious homesickness.” Ridout, who was Kent’s second leading three-point shooter, is the cousin of Lydia Poe, another freshman who left homesick before the school year even started. Both were high school teammates in Jackson County, about 45 minutes south of Athens.
Ridout had averaged 3,4 points in 13.3 minutes a game. Her leaving in leaves a hole in outside shooting this season, but the Flashes have three guards in their incoming freshman class. Two are averaging about 15 points a game, the third 20. All are the best players on league-leading teams. Guards Rachel Mendelsohn and Tyra Banks also will return next season after suffering preseason knee injuries this year.
Lanier spoke at this week’s coach’s luncheon Monday because head coach Danny O’Banion was undergoing her fifth of six chemotherapy treatments for lymphoma. Lanier said mid-treatment scans and tests doctors did last week came back clean.
He said the team “really, really wanted to win” for O’Banion Saturday in Kent’s “Play4Kay” game, who promotes awareness of women’s cancers. But for most of the year, he said, practices and games have been business as usual. “If she had hair,” Lanier said, “I don’t think the kids would know.”