It’s been six years since Kent State played its last two regular season games at home.
This week, the Flashes do — but they aren’t easy ones. Wednesday Kent State hosts league-leading Ohio, a team that beat it 58-44 in February. Saturday it plays Buffalo, a team Kent State came within two points of on the road but still trails by five games in the conference standings.
Ohio is 23-4, 14-2 in the MAC, Buffalo is 16-11, 9-7, and Kent State 5-22, 3-13.
Kent State is 2-3 over its last five games — all close ones. The Flashes beat Northern Illinois by two, lost to Buffalo by two, beat Bowling Green by four, lost to Akron by one and lost to Miami by seven.
Ohio has done one of the biggest turnarounds in the nation this season. Last year the Bobcats were 7-21 and tied with Kent State and Miami for last in the conference at 4-14. This year they’ve already won 16 more games — with pretty much the same players under second-year coach Bob Boldon.
Ohio is led by junior guard Kiyanna Black, who averages 16 points, including 3.2 three-pointers a game. That three-point number is fifth in the country. As a team, Ohio is fourth in the nation with 9.3 three-point goals a game.
n Athens, Kent State actually led Ohio 24-22 at halftime with some of its best defense of the season. But Ohio shot 52 percent in the second half, including three three-pointers in a row by Black in the middle of the half that blew the game open.
Still, it was the second fewest points Ohio has scored all season.
Kent State has been playing like a mid-level MAC team, not one in 11th place (fifth in the MAC East).
Much of that has to do with the way the Flashes are executing their offense. Kent is 10th in the conference in scoring at 55.2 points per game but is fourth in the conference in assists with 13.5 per game (on an average of 21.6 shots). (Stats are for conference games only.) That’s also two more assists per game than the Flashes averaged per game last year and four more than in 2012-13, coach Danny O’Banion’s first season.
“This team really plays as a team,” O’Banion said in response to a question at the coaches’ luncheon this week. “They understand turning down a low percentage shot for a high percentage shot.”
Those high percentage shots often come from center Cici Shannon, who is first in the conference at 56 percent, and forward Jordan Korinek, who is fourth at 52 percent. Guard-wing Melanee Stubbs is 10th at 45 percent.
A big chunk of the assists belong to senior point guard Mikell Chinn, who is second in the MAC with 5.4 assists per game. Freshman point guard Naddiyah Cross averages about three, Krista White averages 1.5 and Shannon, Korinek, Stubbs and Larissa Lurken all about one.
Kent’s problem is another statistic — turnovers. The Flashes make more turnovers than any team in the conference.
“When we take care of the basketball, we can play really good offense,” O’Banion said. T
he Flashes committed 19 turnovers Saturday, leading to 19 Miami points in their seven-point loss. In their previous two games — at Bowling Green and against third-place Akron — they forced more than they committed. In their first game against Ohio, they made 25.