After Kent State women’s basketball team routed a mediocre Bradley team Friday, we wondered how good this group really was.
After the Flashes beat a very solid Eastern Kentucky team — a team with two very good players — by 13 points Monday, the answer is that so far, things look pretty darn good.
Kent State ran to a 21-point first-half lead and held back a second-half Eastern rally to earn an 80-67 victory.
It is the first time KSU has won its first two games since 2010, the Flashes’ last winning season. It’s only the second time in five years they’ve won two games in a row at all. Eastern Kentucky — if you count its 18-12 record last season or 1-0 record this year — is only the third team with a winning record Kent State has beaten since 2012.
So far things are different under new head coach Todd Starkey.
“Obviously I’m really pleased with the win,” Starkey said in his postgame radio interview on Golden Flash iHeart Radio after he first pointed out two things the team needed to do better. “I thought we did a really good job on the offensive and defensive end in the first half. We did a good job of keeping our composure and of executing down the stretch.”
The Flashes’ first half was even better than the excellent first half they played against Bradley.
They made 65 percent of their shots, including five of six three-pointers. They outrebounded Eastern Kentucky 22-10. They had 12 assists on 17 baskets and just five turnovers.
The Flashes held Eastern to 32 percent shooting and forward Jalen O’Bannon — the preseason player of the year in Ohio Valley Conference — to zero points and one rebound. She averaged a double-double last season. O’Bannon finished with 10 points and three rebounds.
“We did really execute the game plan on her,” Starkey said. “She’s a very tough player, especially on the high post. We really did a good jump of crowding the paint so she didn’t have driving lanes.”
Eastern Kentucky came out in the second half much more aggressive on offense and defense. The Colonels cut Kent State’s lede from 51-32 to 57-50 over seven minutes in the third quarter. Over that time, they forced five KSU turnovers and held the Flashes to 2 of 10 shooting. Points off turnovers went from 16-6 Kent at halftime to 17-17 at the end of the third quarter.
“We’ve got to get that cleaned up,” Starkey said. “Our scrimmage and two games in a row now that we’ve struggled in the third quarter. We’re going to spend a lot of time on that as a coaching staff and in practice so that when we come of the locker room (in the second half) we’re not sluggish.”
The only quarter in which Bradley played Kent State even was the third (18-18). In a closed scrimmage against Cleveland State, KSU had a big lead at halftime and lost it. And Eastern Kentucky outscored the Flashes 25-18 in the third quarter Monday.
What steadied Kent State Monday was getting the ball to Jordan Korinek inside to stop EKU scoring runs and a big swing on a technical foul against Eastern in the last minute of the quarter.
Larissa Lurken was fouled after she grabbed a defensive rebound, then the player who fouled her was called for a technical. (I couldn’t tell whether she pushed Lurken after the play or said something the referees didn’t like.)
Lurken made all four free throws. KSU took the ball, missed two shots, got two offensive rebounds, and Ali Poole made a shot with one second to go in the quarter.
Lurken, Korinek and reserve forward Chelsi Watson were the players of the game.
Lurken had 27 points on top of the 22 she had in KSU’s opener agains Bradley. She made three of five three-point shots, which took her into second place in three-point baskets in KSU history with 153. The record is 160 by Kathy Carroll from 1990 to 1994.
Lurken made 12 of 12 free throws and had 10 rebounds and two steals. She now has 960 points in her career. Barring something really crazy, she’ll soon become the 20th player in school history to score 1,000 points in her career and the first for the Flashes since 2011.
Korinek had 20 points and 9 rebounds after struggling with just 7 and 3 in the opener in Bradley. She also did the primary guarding of EKU’s O’Bannon. And she stayed out of foul trouble, which cost her minutes against Bradley and in many games last season.
Watson came off the bench to score 11 points and have 8 rebounds in 15 minutes.
“What a great effort,” Starkey said in the biggest superlative I’ve heard him say since he came to Kent State. “If Chelsi doesn’t show up today, we may not win that game. She gave us really big minutes on key possessions. She got some great hustle points on offensive rebound putbacks and came up with a couple of loose balls. And then she had two charges. Those two charges were huge on a team that drives it as much as Eastern Kentucky.”
- Poole had 9 points after scoring 11 in her first college game Friday. She was the first player off the bench for the second game in a row.
- Point guard Naddiyah Cross had 9 assists to 1 turnover to go with two points, two rebounds and a steal.
- KSU outrebounded Eastern 42-21. After Lurken, Korinek and Watson came McKenna Stephens with seven. KSU had 12 second-chance points to the Colonels’ two.
- Kent State had 12 assists and five turnovers in the first half and 12 turnovers and four assists in the second.
- For the game, Kent State made 27 of 54 shots. But for the second game in a row, second half shooting was much worse — just 35 percent. Eastern Kentucky made 27 of its 59 shots for 45.8 percent.
- Kent State’s 80 points were its second highest in five seasons. Friday’s 77 were third highest.
- Kent State made 21 of 30 foul shots, Eastern Kentucky 7 of 9.
- Shavontae Naylor, Eastern’s 5-11 transfer guard from the University of South Florida, led the Colonels in scoring for the second straight game with 21 and led them with six rebounds.
- Eastern Kentucky is 1-1 on the season. It beat Bowling Green 57-55 at home Friday.
Kent State plays its third straight home game Saturday against Robert Morris, which is 1-1 with a 69-52 victory over NAIA school Point Park and a 69-56 loss to Division I Monmouth. Last year Robert Morris was 20-13 and third in the Northeast Conference and won the conference tournament. The Colonials lost to Connecticut 101-49 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They return four starters, including leading scorer Anna Niki Stamolamprou, a 5-9 guard who averaged 13.7 points a game, was NEC tournament MVP and a second-team all-conference player.
The game is at 2 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center.
KSU team website story, including video highlights and interviews.