This is decidedly not the Kent State basketball team that has gone 21-96 over the last four years.
Tuesday the Flashes outplayed one of the best teams on their schedule for 36 minutes before losing to Wright State 73-68. The Raiders have won 25 games in each of the last two seasons and are picked to finish second in the Horizon League this year.
Kent is 1-1, having beaten Colgate 76-71 Sunday. Wright State also is 1-1. It lost to Miami of Florida, a team that’s received votes in the national polls, 80-67 on Friday.
“For us to be in a position to beat a team with a potential all-American candidate…,” coach Danny O’Banion said after the game. “We’re very excited for this young group this early in the season.”
The Flashes led Wright State 64-57 with 3:37 to go. Then the Raiders, behind guard Kim Demmings, ran off 12 straight points. The first 10 came in a 80 seconds.
At the beginning of Wright State’s run, Kent didn’t play badly. The Raiders just played better.
The Flashes rattled two open three-point shots off the rim and missed a layup. The Raiders turned two of the misses into fast-break baskets and added points off of two turnovers as KSU got flustered.
Demmings, the Horizon League preseason player of the year, scored six of those 10 points, then added five foul shots in the last minute to clinch the victory. Demmings finished with 26 points and now has 2,030 in her career. She also had a career-high 12 rebounds.
Demmings is a fifth-year senior. Symone Denham, who scored 14 points, is a senior. Antania Hayes and Riche van der Keijl, who each scored 11, are juniors.
Kent has no seniors. Starting guard Larissa Lurken is only junior with Division I experience. Two sophomores, a redshirt freshman and a junior college transfer join her in the starting lineup.
At times Tuesday, Kent State was playing four freshmen and a junior college transfer, all in their second college game.
Redshirt freshman Tyra James had her second excellent game in a row. She had 20 points, seven rebounds and three steals. She missed all last year with a knee injury suffered just before the season started.
“She’s basically what we thought she could be when we recruited her,” O’Banion said. “Players like her — a tall wing with a big wingspan — do very well the the Mid-American Conference.”
James leads Kent State with 37 points in two games
Five-foot-ten junior college transfer Chelsi Watson had a surprising 11 points and eight rebounds, going against Wright State’s van der Keijl, who is 6-5.
“Chelsi is a blue-collar player, high energy, with a lot of athleticism,” O’Banion said.
True freshman guards Megan Carter and Taylor Parker played a lot of minutes — a lot more than Kent State planned.
Starting point guard Naddiyah Cross fouled out in the third quarter trying to stop a four-foot shot by van der Keijl, who is about a foot taller.
“I told her it was 50 percent on me and 50 percent on her,” O’Banion said. “She probably shouldn’t have been playing, but I thought things were going well with her on the court. But she knows better than to challenge a player that big with four fouls.”
Cross played only 17 minutes and scored eight points.
Carter, on the other hand, played 22 minutes and ran the team through most of the fourth quarter. She had nine points. Carter certainly isn’t afraid to shoot — she took 15 shots, second on the team to James’s 23.
The 5-7 guard, who averaged almost 19 points a game at Michigan’s North Farmington High School, was one of KSU’s top recruits.
“Megan is going to be special player here — a special player sooner rather than later,” O’Banion said. “She had a tough one Sunday against Colgate (zero points and two turnovers in 11 minutes).
“She responded very nicely today. She’s a very creative offensive player. It’s fun to see Megan do what what we recruited her for. I’m happy she got a chance to show our fans and to prove to herself that she can be effective.”
Carter and Parker both are clearly still learning college basketball. They combined for seven turnovers. But you could see both growing in confidence.
None of Kent State’s three experienced players — Cross, Lurken and forward Jordan Korinek — scored in double figures. Lurken, who scored 23 points in KSU’s opener, made just a three-pointer and three foul shots. Wright State hounded her; she got off just four shots. She did lead Kent State with three assists and had two steals.
“She’ll be just fine,” O’Banion said. “With Megan, there’s another scorer teams have to worry about. Larissa will be open more.”
Korinek had eight points and eight rebounds. She has 16 rebounds through two games.
- For the second game in a row, Kent State has a plus-five turnover margin (22-17). The Flashes have had a margin of at least negative five for the last four years. KSU had 13 steals Tuesday.
- Wright State won the game on the fast break, where it had 27 points. Colgate scored 19 on the break against Kent in the opener.
- Both teams made 35 percent of their shots. KSU actually had 10 more shots than the Raiders. The game was lost at the foul line, where Wright State was 20 of 29 while Kent State was 11 of 16.
- Wright State made just 5 of 22 three-point shots. Colgate made 5 of 24. Last year KSU was second to last in the MAC in three-point defense. It’s been playing a zone defense heavily.
- Alexa Golden, Kent’s other top freshman recruit, didn’t score in 18 minutes. (She had 11 against Colgate.) She did have two assists and two steals and has five steals in two games.
- James played 35 minutes for the second game in a row. Lurken played 31, Korinek 29, Watson 26, Carter 22, Golden 18 and Cross 17. Junior college transfer Keziah Lewis played nine minutes (with two steals), Parker eight minutes (four points) and 6-4 freshman Merissa Barber-Smith five (two points, two rebounds and a block).
- Sophomore forward McKenna Stephens, who played 15 minutes a game last season, missed her second straight game with a knee injury. She was moving much better on the sideline than she was Sunday.
- Led by van der Keijl’s 15, Wright State outrebounded Kent 52-45. Colgate outrebounded the Flashes 52-41.
- The 300-plus students from Davey Elementary School at the “Kid’s Day” game made lots of noise. Kent’s players have been doing volunteer work at least once a week at the school this fall, and it’s clear they’ve formed a bond. A line waiting to get autographs stretched the full length of the court after the game.
- There were about 80 other fans at the start of the game. By the end, there were probably 120.
The Flashes play again Thursday — their third game in five days. They travel to Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne. a team that was 9-21 and ninth in the Summit League a year ago.
“We’ve got some vinegar in our tanks to take on the road,” O’Banion promised.
Video highlights, including interview with coach Danny O’Banion, along with Kent State sports website story.