It’s always hard to tell from an exhibition game, but there was some good conclusions to draw from Kent State’s 73-45 exhibition victory over Hiram College Sunday.
First, the hedge. Hiram is a below-average Division III team. The Terriers were 7-19 last year and aren’t predicted to be much better this year. They don’t have a player over 6 feet tall.
Larissa Lurken, the veteran of the team as a junior, was in midseason form. She scored 24 points, 19 in the first half. She made her usual three-pointers, but made five of seven two-point shots, including two layups on fast breaks. I don’t remember her scoring on a fast break at all last season.
The Flashes are playing more up-tempo. They scored 16 fast-break points and scored 18 points in a row to end the first half. The team seems faster and quicker than last year’s group, which was 5-25.
Redshirt freshman Tyra James is as good as advertised. Out all last year with a knee injury, James scored six of Kent’s first eight points and had 13 overall. She’s very smooth with the basketball; she had a gorgeous reverse layup in the second half. At her best, she looked like an all-conference player. The 5-11 wing had six rebounds, though she also had four turnovers.
The starting line-up was Lurken, James, sophomores Jordan Korinek and Naddiyah Cross, and junior college transfer Chelsi Watson. Watson is a 5-10 forward who has the best vertical leap on the team. She had eight rebounds and actually jumped center on the opening tipoff. (She didn’t control it.)
The team showed it can play without Korinek, who got two quick offensive fouls (one on an illegal pick). She scored just two points in 12 minutes. But they’ll need her in the regular season. She was the team’s third-leading scorer and rebounder last season and is Kent State’s best post player.
Cross, the point guard, had seven assists, eight points and just two turnovers. She had clear control of the offense. Cross was aggressive at driving to the basket and made the only three-point basket besides Lurken. We didn’t see that kind of offense at the point last season.
Surprise of the game was 6-4 freshman Merissa Barber-Smith, who had nine points, 10 rebounds and a block in just 13 minutes.
Freshman guard Alexa Golden and Megan Carter, both all-state high school players, looked like freshmen. They did some good things, but both were one of six shooting and looked unsure on offense. Golden did look like the good defense player she’s supposed to be; Carter had some nice moves on jump shots in the second half. Carter was the first player off the bench and played back-up point guard. Freshman Taylor Parker also played a lot at point in the second half and had six points and two steals. She is very fast.
The Flashes had 17 turnovers — too many against a Division III team. The starters had 11 of those, so we can’t blame it on the freshmen. The team had just five turnovers in the second half, when the freshmen played the most.
Thirteen of Kent’s 15 players got in the game; 11 scored. Eleven played more than 11 minutes. Freshman Savannah Neace and junior college transfer Keziah Lewis didn’t play. Sophomore McKenna Stephens, a significant contributor last year, played only eight minutes and didn’t score. She didn’t look completely healthy.
Kent State played a great deal of zone defense. In her postgame interview, coach Danny O’Banion said that wasn’t necessarily a sign of the season. “It will depend on the opponent,” she said. “This is a very coachable group” that can play a lot of ways. O’Banion was noncommittal on the team’s overall performance, saying it was just nice to play someone besides themselves.
The Flashes shot 50 percent in the first half and 43 percent for the game. They were 5 of 22 on three-pointers. Lurken was four for eight. Kent, much bigger and stronger than Hiram, outrebounded the Terriers 50-37. The Flashes had 16 offensive rebounds and 18 second-chance points.
Hiram shot 27 percent from the field and on three-pointers. KSU forced 20 turnovers.
Kent State’s first four-quarter game was uneventful. The first timeout came just after six minutes; it would have been four minutes last season. It also felt different to have players shooting two foul shots after they hit the bonus. There’s no one-and-one anymore in women’s basketball.
The Flashes open the regular season Colgate at 2 p.m. next Sunday at the MACC. Colgate was 9-22 last season. Kent beat them on the road on a last-second shot.