There really was no defense in Kent State’s 98-97 loss to Northern Illinois Wednesday at the M.A.C. Center.
But defense was pretty much all KSU coach Todd Starkey wanted to talk about after the game.
“We knew they (NIU) wanted this kind of game,” he said. “They try to outscore people. We played their game.
“What’s disappointing is that we’re trying to develop a program that can defend at a high level. I told them at halftime: Let’s play with the passion and intensity you have to have if you’re going to win these conference games.
“This is not a team you want to trade baskets with, and for 40 minutes we tried to do that. And it didn’t work in our favor. By one point, I get that. But…”
Not many other teams have been able to defend Northern Illinois (11-4, 4-0 in the MAC) this season. The Huskies average 90.6 points a game — second highest in the country.
And they showed how many different ways they could score.
Northern Illinois shot 70 percent in the first half.
“I don’t think think I’ve ever seen a team shoot the ball that well in a half,” Starkey said. “There were layups, but most of them were jump shots, and threes.”
Still, Kent State led Northern 54-53 at halftime. The Flashes themselves shot 45 percent in the first half. They had 16 more shots than NIU thanks to forcing 11 turnovers (that produced 19 points) and getting 13 offensive rebounds.
Then Kent State outscored Northern 24-15 in the third quarter when NIU shot just 29 percent. Kent State shot 55 percent in the quarter.
But, Starkey said, “a 10-point lead is nothing to them. They proved it.”
NIU came back to shoot 56 percent in the fourth quarter. Kent was 3 of 11 for 27 percent.
Northern outscored KSU 13-2 over two minutes early in the fourth quarter to take an 83-82 and went ahead to stay 90-87 on a three-point shot by Cassidy Glenn with three minutes to go. The game went between a one- and three-point NIU lead for the last three minutes, with KSU scoring on a layup by Naddiyah Cross with 5 seconds to play.
Kent State got the ball back on a turnover in the corner of the NIU forecourt with 2 seconds to play but couldn’t get a shot off. The Flashes were out of timeouts and couldn’t advance the ball to their front court or run a set play.
KSU is now 7-9 and 1-3 in the MAC. The three games the Flashes have lost to have been to teams that have just one loss among them, and that loss was to one another.
Seven wins is more than KSU won all last year and equals the most wins for the Flashes in the last six years.
But, Starkey asks, “In what world of athletics is 7-9 a success?
“We’re better. I get that. But it’s not better to the standard we want for this program. It doesn’t do me any good to be where we are and get excited about we’re playing better. Yes, we’re getting better results than we had in the past. But I’m not comparing ourselves to the past. I’m comparing us to where we want to go.”
Larissa Lurken had 31 points for KSU, along with 6 rebounds, a career-high 6 assists, 2 blocks and 3 steals. Jordan Korinek had a season-high 26 points and 6 rebounds. McKenna Stephens had 16 points and 7 rebounds.
“The offense wasn’t the issue,” Starkey said. “We got the ball in spots where we wanted to score it. We got good looks, we got the ball inside, we played inside-out, we knocked down shots.”
- 97 points is the most Kent State has scored since 2004, when the Flashes beat Ball State 99-64. The 195 points between the two teams were the most I could find since a 101-95 overtime loss to Western Michigan in 1994.
- KSU and NIU had another high scoring game last season, when the Flashes won 95-85. Lurken had 37 points in that game.
- Kent State forced 21 turnovers, tying their season high, and scored 26 points off of them, a season high. Northern Illinois is not a turnover-prone team. The Huskies actually led the MAC in fewest per game (13.1) going into Wednesday game. Kent State tied a season low with 13 turnovers for the second game in a row.
- In a one-point game, all sorts of things make the difference. But KSU lost two points at the end of the first half when officials ruled an offensive cutback by Stephens came just after the buzzer. The basket was originally ruled good but overturned after the referees looked at video.
- There was a delay of more than 10 minutes in the fourth quarter as officials checked the score, then 86-85 Kent State. They compared the official scorebook to the media box and went through the play-by-play. The score stood. Starkey was asked if the delay made a difference. “It was the same for both teams,” he said.
- The teams missed a total of four foul shots. Northern Illinois, the MAC leader in foul shooting percentage, was 17 of 19. Kent State, which leads the MAC in most foul shots made and taken, was 21 of 23.
- Korinek took 22 shots, a season high. KSU has made a major effort to run the ball through her in the post as much as possible the last two games. Korinek also stayed out of foul trouble two games in a row. She had 47 points in those two games.
- Lurken’s 31 points were the third time this season she’s scored more than 30. She continues to lead the MAC in scoring.
- Cross’s 11 points were two off her season high. She had five assists to two turnovers and three steals.
- Northern Illinois, which has six players averaging in double figures, had five scoring more than 10 Wednesday. Freshman Janae Poisson had a career-high 27 off the bench on 9 of 17 shooting, including 4 of 8 three-pointers and 5 of 5 foul shots. Point guard Ally Lehman, who has had two triple-doubles this season, wasn’t far from a third. She had 15 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. She’s second in the conference in both assists an rebounds.
- From NIU coach Lisa Carlsen via the Northern website: “We shot the ball really well, especially in the first half, but we made just enough plays tonight. We don’t ever get in a situation where we panic if we’re down by 10 like we were at the start of the fourth quarter. At the start of the period, we made some big shots. We got enough rebounds and enough stops, and we hit our free throws down the stretch to get a big road win.”
- KSU outscored Northern in every way but three-point baskets. There NIU, which leads the MAC in three-pointers per game, made 9 of 20. Kent State made 4 of 15.
- Attendance was listed at 240, which is the lowest I can remember. It was a lousy night outside, and there are no students on campus. But the game was a lot more watchable than the men’s game Tuesday.
Kent State travels to defending MAC champion Ohio (12-3, 3-1 MAC) Saturday. The Bobcats beat Akron (7-8, 0-4) at Akron Wednesday, 85-69.
Game story from NIU website.
Other MAC scores
- Central Michigan (12-4, 4-0) 101, Ball State (10-6, 3-1) 92 at Ball State.
- Western Michigan (12-3, 3-1) 75, Bowling Green (5-11, 1-3) 58 at Western.
- Toledo (12-3, 3-1) 73, Buffalo (11-4, 1-3) 64 at Buffalo.
- Miami (7-10, 1-3) 72, Eastern Michigan (5-11, 0-4) 60 at Miami.
MAC standings and some team statistics.