Todd Starkey and Larissa Lurken were happy people as they sat in the coach’s office for an interview Tuesday.
They had been back from the Gulf Coast Showcase tournament, where they:
- Beat Florida Gulf Coast, which is picked to win its seventh straight Atlantic Sun Conference title this season.
- Lost in overtime to Western Kentucky, which is picked to win Conference USA and got votes in last week’s top 25 AP poll.
- Did better than most teams have against Baylor, which has been moved up to the No. 4 spot in the current AP poll.
Lurken scored 88 points in three games, including the 1,000th of her career. She set a tournament record with 39 points against Western Kentucky, became Kent State’s all-time three-point leader, and made an all-tournament team that includes at least two players likely to be All-Americans.
“Florida accomplished exactly what I hoped it would,” Starkey said. “That’s to get us in the company of really good teams and then fight to belong. And everybody down there knows that we belonged in that tournament, that we weren’t the eighth seed just showing up to get beat.”
Every team in the tournament but Kent State won at least 26 games last season. Kent was 6-23.
“We learned some things about ourselves,” Starkey said. “One is that we can play with just about anybody. And two, there are certain things you have to do in tense moments in order to beat good teams. Good teams are good teams for a reason: they know how to win. Western Kentucky knows how to win, and we’re still learning that process.”
Kent State is now 3-4 this season and plays 1-5 Fort Wayne at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the M.A.C. Center.
Is the team where Starkey hoped it would be?
“If I’m honest with myself,” Starkey said, thinking back to before the season, “and we were to say that after this stretch we’re 3-4 going into IPFW and a have a chance to go .500, we would have taken that.”
Kent State has played five mid-major teams picked to finish no lower than third in their conference, along with Baylor, one of the best teams in the country. Besides Florida Gulf Coast, the Flashes have beaten Eastern Kentucky, which is picked third in the Ohio Valley Conference, by 13. In their opener, they beat Bradley, a second-division team in the Mississippi valley Conference, by 25 points. Bradley had beaten KSU by 8 points a year ago.
Lurken, who’s played against the best in the MAC for three years, says the teams KSU has played so far are comparable, “or even better.”
How Kent has competed, she said, “shows us that we’re a lot better than we have been.”
“We are able of not just competing with them, but beating them,” she said.”It just takes a couple more possessions of flipping that loss to a win. It gives us a lot of confidence — a lot of confidence — as a team.”
Lurken said that a lot feels different that the teams that went 18-81 over her first three years here.
“The style of play, the tempo, is really good for our team because we like to push it,” she said. “We’re better at executing. Last year on offense, we were looking for one specific thing. This year we’re looking at multiple options.”
(I’ll have a lot more about Larissa herself from her and her coach in a later post this week.)
Starkey said the team is ahead of where he thought they’d be.
“I also have greater expectations for this team than I did a few months ago,” he said.
The Fort Wayne game
We used to call the team and school IPFW (Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne), but they’ve switched to just “Fort Wayne.”
Fort Wayne is 1-5. The only team the Mastodons have beaten is Division III Defiance. Probably the best team they’ve played is 4-4 Belmont, the preseason favorite in the Ohio Valley Conference. Belmont beat Fort Wayne, 85-59.
Fort Wayne beat Kent State 86-68 in Indiana last season and went on to a 7-23 season and seventh in the Summit League. The Mastodons have three starters back from that team, but none averaged more than 7 points a game. They have a new coach in Niecee Nelson, who was an assistant at San Diego for 11 years in which that team went 222-124.
Fort Wayne’s leading scorers have been 5-7 sophomore guard De’Jour Young and 5-10 guard Peyton Fallis, both of whom average about 11 points a game. As a team, the Mastodons average about 65 points and give up about 74.
“They play really hard, and they crash the offensive glass, and they don’t give up on possessions,” Starkey said. “They’re hungry. Sometimes the biggest trap games you plays are against a team that comes in at 1-5 and has nothing to lose.”
Preview from Kent State website, including links to roster, statistics, schedule, etc.
Preview from Fort Wayne website, including links.
The Lurken watch
Lurken was named MAC East player of the week Tuesday, only the second time in six years a Kent State player has won that award. Lurken did last season after she scored 35 points against Northern Illinois.
Lurken is sixth in the country in scoring at 23.4 points a game. She leads the country in free throws (67 or 9.6 a game) and free-throw attempts (82 or 11.7 a game.) A lot of that comes from her 22-of-25 game against Western Kentucky in which she set KSU records in both foul-shooting categories.
She’s second in the MAC in scoring (to Akron’s Hannah Plybon, who’s averaging 27 but in just three games). She’s 11th in rebounding at 7.0 a game, 11th in free-throw percentage (81.7), 14th in three-point percentage (41.7) and ninth in three-point baskets per game (2.1). She’s third in the league in minutes played (25.3).
Some team numbers
Thanks in large part to Lurken’s numbers, Kent State is tied for second in the country in free throws made (134 or 19.1 a game) and third in free throws attempted (185 or 26.4).
The Flashes are eighth in the conference in scoring (66.6 points a game), 10th in scoring defense (69.6), third in free-throw percentage (72.4), ninth in field goal percentage (38.1) and seventh in rebound margins (plus 1.6).
Those numbers are a little distorted by the 84-42 loss to Baylor. But the Flashes’ 3-4 record is eighth best in the 12-team MAC.
If you can’t go to the Fort Wayne game
- Video starts at 7 p.m.
- Audio at about 6:45 on Golden Flash iHeart radio.
- Live statistics.
- In-game updates on Twitter at @KentStatwbb.