The first seven minutes of Kent State’s third quarter Sunday may have been the high point of coach Danny O’Banion’s four years in Kent. The Flashes broke a 31-31 halftime tie with with 15 straight points as they went on to win their season opener over Colgate, 76-71.
At the half, the teams looked evenly matched, as they did last year when Kent won 62-61 on a shot at the buzzer.
Then six seconds into the second half, the Flashes fed forward Jordan Korinek low. She drove to the basket and was fouled by Colgate center Josie Stockhill. It was the third foul on Stockill, Colgate’s best player, and she went to the bench for the rest of the KSU rally. Korinek made both shots, and the Flashes were off
On the next play, Colgate missed a jumper, got an offensive rebound and went for a layup. Redshirt freshman Tyra James blocked it and started a fast break that ended with a basket by point guard Naddiyah Cross. Then Larissa Lurken hit a three-point shot after a turnover. Thirteen seconds later, Cross stole the ball and scored, and just like that, it was 40-31.
Sixteen seconds later, Cross again stole the ball at the sideline, drove to the basket and fed James with a behind-the-back pass for a layup.
In the run, Kent State’s press forced five turnovers.
O’Banion actually thought the key to the run came at the end of the first half, when Kent kept Colgate from getting off a good shot with the score tied. So at halftime, she said, “We decided to give the press a go while their courage was up.”
“They came out and really asserted themselves defensively and got the baskets off it it,” the coach said in her postgame radio interview.
O’Banion has talked about her team being able to play up tempo with 14 players and personnel who can run the floor. The Flashes certainly look faster than any Kent team in years.
What the coach calls her “big three” came through Sunday. Lurken, the junior who’s Kent’s most experienced player, had 23 points on 7 of 13 shooting (4 of 7 three-pointers). She was second on the team in rebounding with six and scored on the end of two fast breaks.
James, who missed all last season with a knee injury, played a smooth floor game and shot from every distance as she scored 17. She drove hard to the basket, shot jumpers and made a three-pointer. She brought the ball up court several times against a Colgate press. Interviewed after the game, James said her knee “feels good” and the victory “feels amazing.”
As she did in Kent State’s exhibition victory over Hiram, Korinek got two first half fouls and scored only two points. But in the second half, she scored three straight baskets on post plays as Kent State built a 19-point lead. Korinek had eight rebounds, all in the first half, and 12 points.
Freshman Alexa Golden had 10 points in 22 minutes in her first college game. She made two three pointers and had three steals.
The Flashes saw their 19-point fourth quarter lead drop to five against a Colgate press in the last six minutes. (“We’re going to be working on that in practice,” O’Banion said.) But Cross hit two free throws and Lurken made a free throw and a layup in the last minute to preserve the victory.
- KSU made 7 of 17 three-pointers. That’s four more than the team’s average last year, and, best of all, three of the baskets came by players other than Lurken. She had 34 more three-pointers than the rest of the team combined last season.
- The Flashes forced 25 turnovers and committed 20. Last year their turnover margin for the season was the opposite — minus five. Kent scored 23 points off turnovers, Colgate 17. That’s the scoring margin right there. In last year’s game, Kent State made five more turnovers than Colgate. Kent State had 12 steals.
- The difference also came at the foul line, where KSU outscored Colgate 19-4. Opponents last season almost always shot more free throws than Kent State. Never did Kent have anywhere near 15 more points off free throws. Only twice did the Flashes make more than 19 foul shots. The 31 foul shots Kent had Sunday were more than any game last season. Kent’s speed and aggressive attacking of the basket took them to the line.
- The 76 points were the most Kent has ever scored under O’Banion.
- Cross had five steals and seven assists (though she had five turnovers).
- Colgate outrebounded KSU 52-41. Kent often played a small lineup. When Korinek was in four trouble, James was the tallest player on the floor at 5-11. Freshman Merissa Barber-Smith, the Flashes’ biggest player at 6-4, played three minutes and had one rebound and an assist.
- Kent State made 37 percent of its shots, Colgate 41 percent.
- The starting lineup was the same as it was in KSU’s exhibition — Lurken, Korinek, James, Cross and Chelsi Watson, a 5-10 junior college transfer. Watson had two points and five rebounds. She went out with an apparent shoulder injury in the first half (Korinek had to shoot free throws for her) but returned later in the game. Watson controlled the opening tip against the 6-3 Stockill. The Colgate center, who set a school record for blocked shots in a season last year, had six blocks Sunday.
- Lurken, Korinek and James all played about 35 minutes. Golden played 22, Watson 16, freshman guard Megan Carter 11 and junior college transfer Keziah Lewis 10. Freshman guard Taylor Parker played briefly. Sophomore forward McKenna Stephens, who played significant minutes last season, was on the bench with a knee injury.
- Last season Kent State’s record was 5-25; Colgate was 9-22.
- All three officials were women. That’s the first time I’ve seen that in 27 years of following women’s basketball.
Kent plays again at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the MACC against Wright State. The morning time is for “kids’ day,” with 300-plus students from Kent’s Davey Elementary School attending. The women’s team did a lot of community service at Davey over the last year.
Wright State was 25-9 last season and second in the Horizon League. The Raiders lost their opener Friday to Miami of Florida, 80-67.
Link to video highlights, including O’Banion interview, along with KSU website game story.