It wasn’t the way Kent State has been winning games, and that’s a good thing, said coach Todd Starkey.
Instead of running off to a first half lead and hanging on, the Flashes came from behind late in the first half and dominated the fourth quarter.
Instead of Larissa Lurken doing much of the scoring, Kent State had four players in double figures for the first time this season.
It added up to a 75-60 victory over Youngstown State and the fourth consecutive win for the Flashes, who are now 6-4. The sixth win equals Kent State’s total for last season and is one behind the most victories in the last six years.
“A sign of a team that’s maturing and understanding who they are is a team that’s able to make adjustments as a game goes on,” Starkey said. “I think this is a perfect example of that. We adjusted to some things they were doing and were able to make some things happen.”
Lurken still led the Flashes with 18 points, five below her fifth-in-the nation average. But junior forward McKenna Stephens had 17 in her best offensive game of the season. Alexa Golden, coming back after missing a game with a concussion, had a career-high 14 and Jordan Korinek 10. Korinek also equaled her season high with 9 rebounds.
YSU led through most of what Starkey said was a “kind of ugly” first half, in large part because of six three-point baskets. But Kent State scored nine points in the last 1:30 to tie the game at 38 at halftime.
The Flashes took the lead with two minutes to go in the third quarter, then scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter and were never threatened after that. KSU outscored the Penguins 22-10 in the last quarter.
Starkey said the team adjusted its defense in the second half.
“We were a little bit predictable in the first half,” he said. In the second, “we switched from zone to man and back to zone a good bit to keep them guessing.”
He said the team even switched from man-to-man to zone within the same possession several times.
Lurken, who has led KSU in scoring every game this season, didn’t score her first basket Saturday until four minutes into the second quarter. Meanwhile the Flashes were able to go inside to Korinek for eight points in the first quarter.
Then YSU made an effort to keep the ball away from the KSU post player, and that opened up the game for Stephens.
Stephens hadn’t scored more than five points since KSU’s opener. She made 7 of 12 shots, including a three-pointer, for the second-best scoring game of her career. (She had 19 against Eastern Michigan in the last game of last season.)
“They were giving me a lot of space,” she said.
“They were trying to to help on Jordan inside and crowd Larissa on catches,” Starkey said. “That’s a really good sign for a team when they start recognizing how they’re being played and taking advantage of it.
“Larissa came into the game fourth in the country in scoring, and people are going to game plan for her. They’re going to try to take her away. They’re gong to try to limit Jordan’s touches in the post. We’ve talked a lot about other players being able to step up.”
Besides Stephens, Golden’s 14 was her second straight game in double figures. She had 13 against Fort Wayne before missing Wednesday’s game. She made 4 of 6 shots, including 2 of 3 three-pointers, and had five rebounds and two steals.
On Wednesday, freshman Ali Poole had 19 points in starting in Golden’s place. She started again Saturday and had five points and four rebounds, though she played fewer minutes than Golden.
As happens any time a player is interviewed this season, Stephens and Cross were asked, ‘What’s changed? What’s so different that a team with essentially the same players can play so much better that teams in recent years?'”
“The mindset is different,” Stephens said. “We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. We shouldn’t worry about what people say — just do what we believe in.”
“Belief is a powerful thing,” Starkey said. “When I was interviewed for this job, they talked about having a coach who would give them confidence. I said, ‘I can’t give you confidence. That has to come from within. But I can believe in you.’
“And I can also set an expectation that we expect to win. And I think they’re starting to buy in on the defensive end, and that’s probably where the biggest turnaround has happened. Being able to defend has given them confidence on the offensive end as well.”
- YSU beat Kent State 91-61 in Youngstown last season. That scored has been on Kent State’s bulletin board. Saturday’s game “helped right that wrong,” Starkey said.
- Flashiest play of the game was Cross’s behind-the-back pass to Golden under the basket for a layup on a fast break in the fourth quarter. “That was actually the right play there,” Starkey said. “The defender was closing her off on her strong side.”
- Biggest play of the game might have been the three-pointer by Stephens that tied the score at 46 with 3:38 to go in the third quarter. Kent never trailed after that.
- Kent State made 17 of 18 free throws. The miss came by Lurken with a minute and a half to go. Lurken leads the nation in made foul shots. (She did make 4 of 5 for the night.)
- The Flashes made 46 percent of their field goals (26 of 56) and 50 percent of their three-pointers (6 of 12). Wright State was 23 of 58 (40 percent) and 11 of 27 (41 percent). The Penguins’ three-point percentage was 13 percentage points above their season average, and a number of those baskets were closely guarded. YSU’s shooting percentage in the second half was 27.5.
- Kent State outrebounded YSU 38-27 and 25-15 in the second half. The Flashes have outrebounded opponents in 7 of 10 games. After Korinek’s 9 rebounds, Lurken had 6 and Golden and Merissa Barber-Smith 5. Barber-Smith’s came in seven minutes of action. She has 27 rebounds in the 56 minutes she’s played this season.
- The Flashes had nine steals, with two each by Stephens, Lurken and Golden, and five blocked shots.
- They outscored YSU 17-0 on fast break points, 12-6 on second-chance points and 17-10 off turnovers.
- Cross had six assists to two turnovers. She had nine assists and two turnovers at Wright State Wednesday.
The team is off this week for final exams. The next week is a two-game trip to the Big Ten country for games at Iowa (8-3) and Minnesota (7-3).
Game story from KSU website, including video highlights and interviews with coach and players.
The Lurken watch
Lurken’s 18 points give her 1,141 for her career, which is 18th best in school history. She’s 33 points behind Amy Slowikowski (1987-90) and 35 behind Carrie Nance (1998-2001). for 17th and 16th place.
The 5-9 guard blocked three shots Saturday for the second time this season. She has 10 in 10 games. She had five all last season and 21 in her career before this year.
Other MAC scores
Miami (3-6) 64, Division II Northwood (4-3) 49 at Miami.
Western Michigan (7-2) 75, Detroit Mercy (4-6) 65 at Detroit.
Akron (5-2) 63, Eastern Kentucky (2-6) 57 at Eastern Kentucky.
Ohio (7-0) 71, Indiana-Purdue at Indianapolis (7-2) 65 at Indianapolis. Going into that game, Ohio was fourth in the Mid-Major Top 25. IUPUI was 24th.
Nine of the 12 MAC teams have winning records. Ohio and Buffalo are undefeated, Toledo has lost once, Akron, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois twice.
Saturday game stories from MAC website.
MAC standings, including some team statistics.