Flashes host Robert Morris, a team that made it to NCAA last season, Saturday

Kent State coach Todd Starkey looks at Saturday’s opponent, Robert Morris, as a better team than the Eastern Kentucky, the team KSU beat Monday.

It’s close. Robert Morris was 20-13 a year ago, Eastern Kentucky 18-12. Robert Morris is picked second in the Northeastern Conference this season, Eastern Kentucky third in the Ohio Valley Conference. The teams were four places apart in RPI and five apart in strength of schedule last season.

Robert Morris features a preseason all-league pick in guard Anna Niki Stamolamprou. Eastern Kentucky had the OVC preseason player of the year in forward Jalen O’Bannon.

No matter what, it will be another test for the 2-0 Flashes, who are off to their best start since 2010.

Robert Morris is 2-1, with a 69-52 home win over NAIA school Point Par, a 62-51 road win over Division I Lafayette and a 69-56 home loss to Division I Monmouth. Lafayette was 6-23 a year ago; Monmouth was 14-17.

The Colonials, who are based in Pittsburgh, return four starters from last year’s team. Stamolamprou is a 5-9 senior who averaged 13.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in earning second team all-NEC honors last year. She was the league tournament’s MVP as Robert Morris upset No. 1 seed Sacred Hart in the finals to earn an NCAA bid. There the Colonels were routed in the first round by eventual national champion Connecticut.

Stamolamprou is averaging 16.9 in Robert Morris’s three games this season. 6-1 junior forward Megan Smith is averaging 10 rebounds and 13.7 points.

Over the last 11 years, Robert Morris is 202-144 and has won four conference titles. New coach this year is Charlie Buscaglia, who had been associate head coach to his father, Sal, for eight years.

“They’ll be a significant test,” Starkey said. “We’ll have to play well.”

Kent State was 6-23 a year ago but is playing like a different team under Starkey, who became coach in April. The Flashes beat Bradley, a team it had lost to by eight a year ago, 77-52 in their opener and Eastern Kentucky, which ranked 140 places higher than Kent in RPI ratings last season, by 13 at home.

The Flashes are averaging 17 more points and 14 more rebounds than than they did a year ago.

After his Thursday appearance on KSU’s Flash Talk radio program, Starkey had nice things to say about point guard Naddiyah Cross and senior guard Larissa Lurken.

Cross has 15 assists, three turnovers and four steals in two games.

“She’s off to a great start,” Starkey said. “I’m proud of the way she has focused. She’s watched a lot of film, and I think Morgan Toles has been able to help her a lot.”

Toles, an assistant coach, was a starting point guard at Auburn and Florida State, where she led the ACC is assist-to-turnover ratio.

Lurken has 49 points and 15 rebounds in two games, but Starkey also praised her defense.

“She’s bought in on what we’re trying to do,” the coach said. “Her whole life, people have been telling her she wasn’t a good defensive player.

“I have to tell her I disagree. She has the size (5-9) to defend the perimeter and a good basketball IQ. She’s becoming more vocal. She’s doing well.”

Saturday’s game is at 2 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center.

Kent State website preview, including links to roster and statistics.

Robert Morris website preview, including links.

If you can’t go

  • Video stream starts at 2 p.m. at kentstatesports.com/watch.
  • Audio at about 1:55 on Golden Flash iHeart radio at http://www.iheart.com/live/golden-flashes-radio-6068/ and 640 AM WHLO.
  • Live stats at sidearmstats.com/kent/wbball.
  • In-game updates on Twitter at @KentStatwbb.

Friday MAC scores

  • No. 21 Michigan State (4-0) 68, Western Michigan (1-1) 64 in overtime at Western.
  • Ohio (2-0) 72, Tennessee-Martin (1-3) 55 at Ohio.
  • Central Michigan (1-1) 81, Furman (0-2) 71 at Central.

Link to MAC webpage with details on each game.

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