It was the biggest and best victory since Danny O’Banion became coach four years ago.
The Flashes beat Ball State — one of the top three teams in the conference — 59-50 at the MAC Center Saturday.
Why the biggest?
Ball State — 16-6 and 8-3 in the MAC coming into the game — had the best record of any team O’Banion has beaten. It’s only the second team with a winning record the coach has ever beaten. (The other win was a 71-62 win over 5-2 Temple in 2012 during a season when KSU went 3-27.)
The Flashes beat arguably the best player in the conference — 6-2 senior wing Natalie Fontaine. Fontaine had 28 points and 10 rebounds in 40 minutes, including the 2,000th point of her career.
But no one else scored in double figures for a team that was fourth in the MAC in scoring.
It was almost certainly KSU’s best defensive game of the coach’s four years. Besides holding the Cardinals 21 points under their average, the Flashes held them to 31.5 percent shooting — 12.5 percentage points below a league-leading average. They limited BSU to 3 of 24 three-point shooting. They forced 16 turnovers and scored 14 points off of them (to 13 turnovers by Ball State that led to just eight points). They had seven steals.
And it wasn’t that Ball State was missing easy shots. Most everything was contested as Kent switched between man-to-man and match-up zone defenses.
The win capped four-and-a-half games of good play after a dismal first half of the conference season. (The half came when KSU played poorly after leading Western Michigan at halftime.) For the season, the team is still 5-17 and 2-10 in the conference. But, as coaches say, this is the best time of the year to be playing your best basketball.
Larissa Lurken had 24 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter on 4 of 6 shooting. She had five steals, which ties a season high for KSU.
“Larissa made some huge plays,” O’Banion said in her postgame radio interview. “But I’d argue that everybody who got into the game made a pivotal play.”
Leading scorer Jordan Korinek had 11 points. She had eight in the first quarter, then got in foul trouble (as she has much of the season) and played only 17 minutes. I don’t think anyone would have dreamed KSU could beat Ball State with Korinek playing less than half the game.
McKenna Stephens led KSU with six rebounds and played 36 minutes, a career high. Stephens missed the first five games of the season with a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery and has worked hard to get into shape. “She could never have played that much earlier in the year,” O’Banion said at the coaches’ luncheon earlier in the week after Stephens played 34 minutes last game. “She’s been doing 15 minutes of extra cardio every day.”
Freshman Alexa Golden had five rebounds, five points and two steals. As she does every game, she led the KSU defense.
And there is unlikely hero Paige Salisbury, the freshman walk-on who seems to have made all the difference since she joined the starting line-up five games ago. Since then KSU has played like a different team. Salisbury equaled her career-high of eight points, including a three-pointer and two drives to the basket, and had four assists.
“Paige continues to grow her role and teammates continue to grow their confidence in her playmaking ability,” O’Banion. “And to play 32 minutes under some duress — that’s big time play for her.”
Ball State pressured Salisbury in full-court and in half-court. Salisbury — who is not fast and not especially smooth — just handled it. She had a career-high three turnovers; there have been many games in the last four years that Kent State’s point guard had twice that many.
O’Banion also singled out 5-10 post player Chelsi Watson as playing an important role despite not scoring. “Chelsi started the third quarter so we could protect Jordan (who had three fouls) and she did a very nice job of holding it down until Jordan could get back in.”
Kent State jumped to a 13-2 lead behind Korinek’s inside scoring and foul shooting and led by eight after the first quarter, one at the half, and one after the third quarter.
Ball State rallied to take the lead by one early in the fourth quarter. But Lurken and Salisbury hit back-to-back three-pointers to put Kent State ahead.
Then when Ball State tied the game at 48 lead with 4:10 to go, Lurken hit a three-point shot and scored nine straight points to clinch the win.
- Five games ago, Kent State was a distant last in the conference in scoring defense. In the last four games, KSU had allowed 59.25 points a game, best in the conference. League-leading Ohio is second at 60.4. It hasn’t been a cupcake schedule — KSU’s four opponents have a combined record of 53-41, 26-23 in the conference. The turnaround started when the team began to mix a man-to-man defense with the match-up zone it had played almost exclusively earlier in the season.
- The 50 points allowed were the fewest of the season for the Flashes and the second fewest scored this season by Ball State. (It had 48 at Ohio.)
- KSU made 54.2 percent of its shots in the second half after hitting 26.9 percent in the first half. For the game, that averages out at 40 percent, about its season average.
- Ball State outrebounded KSU 37-29 and had 13 offensive rebounds (but just four second-chance points).
- Ball State’s 3 for 24 (12.5 percent) three-point shooting was its worst of the season and the lowest percentage Kent State has allowed this season.
- Kent State’s 13 turnovers equaled its season low.
- Attendance of 644 was second highest of the season. Highest was 666 against Toledo last Saturday, when the Rockets brought at least 100 fans with them. The Ball State game was a “Play 4Kay” fundraiser for breast cancer research, named after former North Carolina State coach Kay Bow, who died after fighting two recurrences of the disease.
- Ball State hasn’t been the same since since it lost 68-67 to Ohio at home Jan. 30. At the time, both teams led their divisions. Since then Ball State trailed Akron at halftime at home before winning 78-71, beat Buffalo (3-8 in the MAC) by just two points, lost to division-leading Central Michigan 74-65 Wednesday and lost to Kent State Saturday.
- Fontaine’s 2,000 points are 91 behind BSU’s all-time leading scorer, Tamara Bowie, with at least seven games to play. She’s just the 15th player in MAC history to score 2,000. Fontaine’s double-double was the 30th of her career.
- All five of Kent State’s victories this season have come at home.
KSU goes a short distance on the road Wednesday for a 7 p.m. game at Akron, which is 12-11 and 6-6 in the MAC. The Zips lost 69-65 at Western Michigan Saturday.
Other MAC scores:
- Eastern Michigan (15-8, 6-6) 70, Miami (9-14, 3-9) 46, at Miami.
- Ohio (19-4, 11-1) 77, Toledo (13-10, 8-4) 57, at Toledo.
- Central Michigan (17-7, 11-2) 73, Northern Illinois (10-14, 3-9) 67, at Northern.
- Buffalo (12-11, 4-8) 63, Bowling Green (8-13, 4-8) 50, at Bowling Green.
- Western Michigan (15-10, 7-6) 69, Akron (12-11, 6-6) 65, at Western.