File photo by Nate Manley, KentWired (Photo gallery)
Kent State got its usual strong scoring from Larissa Lurken, but great second-half play by its other players helped it to a 71-67 victory over Western Michigan.
It was KSU’s second straight victory over a top-rung MAC team on the road. Western was 13-3 and 4-1 in the league. On Saturday, the Flashes beat 12-3 Ohio in Athens.
Western, like Ohio, had been undefeated in the conference at home before the loss to the Flashes. This season the Broncos had lost at home only to 13-6 Michigan State, and that was in overtime.
Kent State is now 3-3 and tied for second place in the MAC East. The Flashes are 9-9 overall.
Lurken had 26 points, but she and Jordan Korinek were the only offense the Flashes had in the first half. The rest of the team had just two points as KSU trailed 35-24 at halftime.
But in the second half, sophomore post player Merissa Barber-Smith had 10 rebounds (she had a career-best 11 for the game). McKenna Stephens had three three-point baskets. Backup point guard Megan Carter had 7 points, including key foul shots in the closing minutes, and Ali Poole had five points on 2-of-3 shooting.
“We were fortunate to go into halftime down 11 — fortunate,” coach Todd Starkey said in his postgame radio interview on WHLO. In the second half, “It happened at the defensive end. We got stop-stop-stop.
“It was a phenomenal defensive effort from midway in the third quarter all the way down the stretch.”
Kent State trailed 45-31 with five minutes to go in the third quarter. Then Barber-Smith faked, scored and drew a foul against Hill, the conference’s third-leading shot blocker.
The Flashes outscored Western 15-7 for the rest of the quarter, then took the lead on a three-pointer by Stephens with seven minutes to go in the game. That basket came after an offensive rebound by Barber-Smith, Kent State’s tallest player at 6-4.
Kent State was ahead by seven before Western’s Meredith Shipman hit two 25-foot three-pointers in the last minute. Foul shots by Carter, Korinek and Naddiyah Cross clinched the game.
Barber-Smith got into the game because Korinek picked up her second foul early in the second quarter and her third early in the third quarter. She ended up playing a career-high 16 minutes because Starkey couldn’t afford to take her out.
“Merissa was really big, not just getting rebounds but contesting shots,” Starkey said. “She held Marley Hill to 6 for 20 from the floor — just affecting shots and not giving them second-chance looks.”
Hill was the eighth-leading scorer in the MAC and making 45 percent of her field goals.
The Broncos’ other forward, Breanna Mobley, was averaging six offensive rebounds a game (11 total). She had just four total Wednesday.
“McKenna did a good job of boxing her out,” Starkey said. “I said, ‘I don’t care if you get the rebound, I just don’t want her to get it.'”
Kent State outrebounded Western — which had the fourth-best rebounding margin in the MAC — 41-28 with 12 offensive rebounds. After Barber-Smith’s 11, Korinek and Stephens had five and Lurken four.
“We got contributions from a lot of people,” Starkey said. “Megan Carter came off the bench and did some nice things for us. Ali Poole made some nice plays when they were overplaying Larissa.”
Starkey said offensive changes Kent State made to counter Western’s defense on Lurken were a key to the game.
“This team is doing a really good job of making the right adjustments at halftime,” he said. “We were really struggling.
“They were overplaying Larissa, so we decided to put in an offensive package that we knew we could get some shots out of. We kept running the same plays, but we took different options off of it.
“We used her as a decoy a little bit. When teams are overplaying Larissa, it’s good for us to put Ali and Megan on the court because both of them have the ability to shoot the ball and score it.”
Lurken’s 26 points were four above her MAC-leading average. She made 7 of 14 field goals (2 of 4 three-pointers) and 12 of 14 foul shots. She also had three assists and a steal.
“We had a really rough first half, probably one of our worst so far this year,” Lurken said on WHLO. “Second half was basically the will to win, and ultimately we wanted to win, and we got it done.”
Korinek had 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting but played only 20 minutes because of foul trouble, and because Barber-Smith was playing so well.
“Coming in here and getting a win is huge for us, and we’re really excited about the progress we’re continuing to make,” Starkey said. “We’ll just keep taking it one game at a time and see what we come up with.”
- One reason Kent State fell behind was 11 turnovers in the first half, seven in the first quarter. But the Flashes made just six in the second half. Western had only 11 for the game and outscored KSU off turnovers, 17-13.
- Kent State’s 11 offensive rebounding led to 15 second-chance points. Western had only 5. The Broncos has been averaging 13 offensive rebounds a game. They had eight Wednesday.
- As they’ve done all season, the Flashes dominated the game at the foul line. KSU was 23 of 31 free throws. Western had only 11 foul shots and made 8. Two WMU players fouled out late in the game.
- Kent State shot 42 percent from the field, 48 percent in the second half. They were 6 of 15 on three-pointers, 5 of 7 in the second half. Western had 41 percent, 34 percent in the second half. The Broncos were 7 of 20 on three-point shots. Shipman was 6 of 14.
- The last time Kent State won two straight games on the road was 2011. The last time it beat MAC teams with a combined record of 26-6 on the road in one week? Maybe never, even in their best years.
The Flashes play another of the MAC’s better teams on Saturday when they host Toledo. The game, the first of a double header with the men’s team, starts at 4 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center. The Rockets (12-5, 3-3) lost at home to Ohio (13-4, 4-2) Wednesday, 64-55.
Other MAC scores
Akron (8-9, 1-5) won its first league game by giving Northern Illinois (12-5, 5-1) its first conference loss. The Zips did it by 29 points (84-55) at Northern Illinois. It was the lowest point total of the season for Northern by 22 points.
Central Michigan is now the only undefeated team in the league. The Chippewas (14-4, 6-0) beat Miami (7-12, 1-5) at home.
Buffalo (13-4, 3-3) 61, Bowling Green (5-13, 1-5) 50 at Bowling Green.
Ball State (12-6, 5-1) 78, Eastern Michigan (5-13, 0-6) 49 at Ball State.
Game stories from MAC and team websites.