Kent State could have been blown out.
Robert Morris made six of its first eight three-point shots. The Colonials were pressuring and battering the Flashes on defense. They led KSU 26-16 after the first quarter.
But KSU battled back, especially in the fourth quarter, to send the game into overtime before falling, 68-65, to a team that went to the NCAA tournament last season.
“I’m not really sure I believe in moral victories,” first-year coach Todd Starkey said. “We lost the game, and that stings, and it should hurt to fight that hard for something and still come up on the short end. But we learned some things about ourselves.
“It was good for me as a coach to see that they were going to fight. A couple of times in the huddle early in the game, I was wondering if they were going to kind of give in, and they decided not to. I was really proud of them for the effort.”
Kent State is 2-1 on the season. Robert Morris, which won the Northeastern Conference tournament last year and is picked second in the league this season, is 3-1.
Senior Larissa Lurken had 32 points and 12 rebounds for the Flashes and had a good look at a three-point shot that would have sent the game into double overtime.
“They executed that play very well,” Starkey said. “We can run it for four different options. Obviously we want to go to Larissa. Obviously she’s down about missing it, but we’re not even in that situation if she doesn’t play the way she did today.”
Lurken played 43 of the game’s 45 minutes. She had 14 points in the fourth quarter when KSU came back from 11 points down. She had two steals and three foul shots in the last 27 seconds as KSU scored the last five points of the quarter.
“She showed incredible toughness,” Starkey said. “And her teammates followed that. They were trying to match that effort. And that’s leadership. Leadership isn’t always the person making the most noise. It’s usually the person doing the right things, and she did a lot of the right things today.”
In three games, Lurken is averaging 27 points and 9 rebounds. Last year she averaged 15 points a game.
Lurken helped lead a defensive effort that held Anna Niki Stamolamprou, Robert Morris’s leading scorer, to 5 of 16 shooting and 2 of 11 after the first quarter. Almost every KSU guard took a turn at defending Stamolamprou.
KSU held the Colonials to 1 of 12 three-point shots after the first quarter.
“They didn’t listen to the scouting report at the beginning of the game,” Starkey said. “We talked about them having five really good shooters that are quick-trigger kids, and we gave them open looks. I encouraged them strongly in the huddles to make sure we’re closing out of their shooters and keeping our hands high and being there on the catch, which is what our game plan was.”
For the game, Robert Morris made 46 percent of its shots, though only 37 percent in the second half.
Kent State shot 13 percentage points worse at 33 percent and only 27 percent in the second and third quarters combined.
Robert Morris’s very physical play often kept Kent State from running its offense, but it also put the Colonials in foul trouble for most of the game.
Four Robert Morris players had three fouls at halftime and three, including Stamolamprou and leading rebounder Megan Smith, fouled out. Smith had 18 points on 7 of 8 shooting but played only 22 minutes.
KSU went to the foul line 34 times, making 24. Robert Morris was 9 of 19.
The Colonials’ physical play kept KSU from getting the ball inside to Jordan Korinek, last year’s leading scorer. Korinek had 7 points on three-of-nine shooting. She also had seven rebounds and four steals.
Junior point guard Naddiyah Cross had the play of the game with 18 seconds to go when she tapped away an inbounds pass on the sideline, beat Stamolamprou to the ball near the KSU basket and was fouled. She made both shots to tie the game.
Cross had 13 points, equalling the second highest in her career. She also made a half-court shot at the buzzer to get Kent State within seven at the end of the first half.
After Robert Morris scored 26 points in the first quarter (by far the highest against KSU this season), KSU held the Colonials to 13 in each of the second and third quarters and eight in the fourth.
“We kept trying different things to throw them off, and it started to to work,” Starkey said. “We started playing a little bit of zone, a little zone press, back to zone, come out in zone, jump into man after the first pass — just trying to change the tempo of the game. It kind of turned things in our favor a little bit.”
Starkey said the team used three different presses in the comeback in the fourth quarter to keep the Colonials from knowing where to put the ball.
- Kent State outscored Robert Morris 24-14 in points off turnovers. The Flashes had a season-high 20 turnovers, but Robert Morris had 22.
- Though the Flashes were outrebounded for the first time this season (38-34), they had nine second-chance points to Robert Morris’s one. Lurken had four offensive rebounds, Korinek three and senior forward Chelsi Watson, playing extended minutes for the second game in a row, had two.
- 6-4 sophomore Merissa Barber-Smith played 10 minutes, highest in her career.
- KSU’s full marching band performed and cheered very loudly as the game’s pep band, then played a concern from the court after the game.
- Attendance was 364, lowest of the season.
Kent State plays its first road game of the season at Detroit Mercy on Monday. Detroit is 1-2 and lost to Bradley by 10 points at Bradley Saturday. Kent State beat Bradley by 25 in its opener in Kent. Still Starkey calls Detroit as good as any team KSU has played this season. The Titans return all five starters from a team that went 15-15 a year ago and finished fourth in the Horizon League.
KSU website story, including video highlights and Starkey interview.
The story from the Robert Morris website, including quotes of the Colonels’ coach.
Other Saturday MAC scores
- No. 5 Louisville (4-0) 83, Bowling Green (0-3) 58 at Louisville.
- Morehead State (3-1) 77, Miami (2-1) 43 at Morehead State.
- Toledo (3-0) 92, Cleveland State (1-2) 59 at Cleveland State.
- Buffalo (3-0) 73, Manhattan (2-1) 39 at Buffalo.
- Western Illinois (3-1) 83, Northern Illinois (2-1) 79 at Western.
- Elon (3-1) 71, Central Michigan (1-2) 57 at Central.
Game stories from the MAC website.