Kent faces hot Eastern in tournament

If there was one team I didn’t want Kent State to play in the first round of the MAC tournament, it was Eastern Michigan.

The Eagles (18-11, 11-7 MAC) have won four straight games and eight of 10 since they beat Kent State 70-53 in Kent Feb. 4.

It has been a remarkable run for Eastern. Just nine days before the Kent game, Eastern forward Shannise Heady was killed in an automobile accident. The Eagles had lost back-to-back games and were 3-5 in the MAC.

Eastern forced 13 first-half turnovers, leading to 19 points, on its way to a 39-24 lead. Kent State played much better in the second half — holding the Eagles to 25 percent shooting and making eight turnovers.

That was the game in which Kent forward Jordan Korinek played the first half with a concussion she had suffered in shootaround (that she hadn’t told anyone about). She was checked out at halftime and didn’t return to the bench in the second half. She missed Kent’s next game.

Since that game, Eastern sophomore Cha Sweeney has averaged 19.1 points a contest while Janay Morton is contributing 15.3.

Sweeney just scored her 1,000th point — only the second sophomore in team history to reach that point.

She is second in the MAC with 2.1 steals per game; Morton is a fraction behind in third.

Steals are a huge part of Eastern’s game. The Eagles average 11.3 a game and score 28 percent of their points off turnovers. They’re also second in the MAC in offensive rebounding.

In their 8-2 run, EMU is making 35.7 percent of its three-point attempts after shooting just 27.4 percent in its first 19 games. EMU also is averaging 12.3 assists, up from 9.9.

Kent State (5-24, 3-15 MAC) has had trouble with turnovers all season long and will have to handle the ball well to have any chance of winning Monday. In Saturday’s loss to Buffalo, however, the Flashes committed fewer turnovers than the Bulls (17 to 22). Buffalo still had an 18-12 margin in points off turnovers. Buffalo’s 22 turnovers were the most by a Kent State opponent this season.

Kent State hasn’t won a MAC tournament game since 2010, when it beat Central Michigan in the conference quarterfinals. It last made it to the rounds at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland the next year, when it lost in the quarterfinals.

Cici Shannon leads Kent State in rebounding with 8.8 a game. That’s second in the MAC overall; she leads the MAC in conference play with 10.7 per game. Her 255 rebounds this season are eighth most in school history.

For the second straight season, Shannon leads the team in blocks with 2.1 per game. She has had 60 this season, seventh in school history. Her 75 last year was tied for third, and her total of 135 is third highest ever for Kent. If you add the 145 blocks she had at Southern Illinois in her first two years in college, she has more blocks than any Kent State player ever. Mary Bukovac has the most in a Kent uniform with 250 from 1986-89.

The game is at 5 p.m., the first of a double header. Eastern’s men — the conference’s No. 8 seed, plays No. 9 seed Miami in the second game.

Audio for the game started at 4:50 on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. You can get video and live statistics through the Eastern website.

The winner of the game will advance to Cleveland to play Toledo or Miami Wednesday afternoon. Full tournament bracket is here.

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