Kent State won a big game at home Saturday.
Now it has to show it can win on the road.
The Flashes, coming off a 59-50 over a good Ball State team, travels to Akron for a 7 p.m. game. Kent State is still looking for its first road victory of the season. It came close last week — 57-54 at Miami — but if the Flashes are going to move out of last place in the MAC East, they have to win away from the MAC Center.
Akron hasn’t had the season it had hoped for. The Zips were picked second in the East Division and are second — but only because the division is so weak behind Ohio.
Akron is 6-6 in the conference and 12-11 overall.
The standings are really pretty interesting. They look like this:
Bowling Green 4-8
Kent State 2-10
All teams face only each other for the last six games of the season. KSU will play Akron twice.
It’s not impossible for KSU to move as high as third (second if it wins all of its games, which is highly unlikely). That might even get KSU an eighth seed and a home game in the first round of the MAC tournament. They’d have to win at least four games to do that.
If that sounds crazy optimistic for a 2-10 team (5-17 overall), it’s because Kent State is playing some of the better basketball in the conference right now.
After an 0-7 start, the Flashes have beaten Buffalo, led Western Michigan at halftime, lost by three in the last minute at Ohio and against Toledo, and beat Ball State. BSU and Toledo are first division teams in the West; Western is 7-6 in the conference.
Two things happened in those five games. The Flashes found their defense. KSU added a man-to-man defense to the match-up zone it had used earlier in the season. Over the last four games, the Flashes actually lead the conference in scoring defense. That’s a long way from the defense that was dead last in points allowed through most of the season.
The other thing is the emergence of walk-on freshman Paige Salisbury as starting point guard. Salisbury is a sure ball handler, and KSU turnovers have dropped with her in the line-up. She has shown signs of being able to score; she had eight points against Miami and Ball State.
Akron has beaten only one MAC team (Toledo) with a winning record. The Zips swept 6-6 Eastern Michigan. They lost to 3-9 Northern Illinois in the first game of the conference season in Akron, lost by seven at Ball State two weeks ago and lost by four at Central Michigan Saturday.
They’re beatable — if KSU can win on the road.
Akron and Kent State played two very good games last season, with Akron winning both times. The game in Akron had 14 lead changes and seven ties before the Zips won by seven. Akron won 54-53 in Kent on a shot by MAC player-of-the-year Sina King with four seconds to go.
King has graduated. The Zips’ leading scorer are guards Anita Brown, who scores 21.6 points a game, and Hannah Plybon, who averages 16.3.
The Zips aren’t big; Jordan Korinek, KSU’s 6-2 leading scorer, had her best game of the year against them in Akron last season and played well in Kent in 23 minutes. She had foul trouble in that game, and she’s had foul trouble throughout the MAC season. Keeping her on the court will be key to the game.
The game is part of the Wagon Wheel Challenge, the all-sports competition between the two schools. So far KSU, which has won the challenge in all three years of its existence, leads Akron 3-2 this season.