After two big road wins, Flashes come home to play Toledo Saturday

Fans who followed the Kent State women’s spectacular road trip get a chance to see the team at home Saturday.

Winners of upsets over two of the best teams in the conference, the Flashes host Toledo at 4 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center.

The game is the first of a double header with the men’s team, who also play Toledo at 7 p.m. The games are part “A Brand New Gameday” promotion, who includes a t-shirt giveaway to all fans.

A ticket to the women’s game give fans free general admission to the men’s. Anyone with a men’s ticket gets in the women’s game.

Kent State is coming off victories on the road against defending MAC champion Ohio and 13-3 Western Michigan. The wins have taken Kent State into a tie for second in the MAC East Division and moved the team up 65 positions in RPI rankings.

The Flashes 9-9 record (3-3 in the conference) is the first time they have been at .500 at midseason in six years. They’ve already won two more games than they have in any of the last five seasons.

Asked on Facebook Live Thursday what fans could expect to see from the team, first-year coach Todd Starkey said this:

“The team has started to consistently play with a lot of heart and energy. And they have a never-give-up attitude.

“In the current world of college sports, you can see a lot of sense of entitlement and players who don’t go hard on every play.

“That’s certainly not what you’re gong to see in this group. They’ve really have thrown all of themselves in what we’re trying to do.”

Toledo may well be every bit as good as the two teams Kent State just beat on the road. The Rockets are 12-5, 3-3 in the conference. They came within two points of beating No. 13 UCLA during the preseason.

Strangely, Toledo has a much better road record than it does at home. The Rockets are 5-0 away from Toledo, including a win at Buffalo, one of the MAC’s upper-rung teams.

But they just have lost two games in a row at home — 77-73 to Northern Illinois and 64-55 to Ohio. Kent State lost to NIU at home 98-97 10 days ago and beat Ohio 68-65 last Saturday. In both games, Toledo shot below 35 percent from the field.

“They’ll be coming in here really hungry,” Starkey said. “They’re a very good team and a very good program.

“If we don’t play a certainly way and we let them turn us over, they could blow us out. If  we play consistently the way have have been starting to over the last three or four games, I think it could be a really interesting game.”

Toledo leads the conference in turnover margin (+6.35 a game) and is second in scoring defense, allowing 59.5 points a game. Ohio had similar statistics in both categories and Western allowed almost exactly the same number of points.

Kent State has struggled with turnovers  at times this season, but had a season-low 13 against both Ohio and WMU.

“They really pressure you on defense,” Starkey said. “We’ve been trying it simulate that in practice, and we faced teams that did that in the non-conference.

“But just because you’ve played against it doesn’t mean you handle it well. We’ve seen it before, so it doesn’t surprise us, but we have to be more effective against it.”

Toledo has two preseason all-MAC West players in guards Jay-Ann Bravo-Harriott and Janice Monakana. Bravo-Harriott leads the Rockets in scoring at 11.8 points a game and makes 42.5 of her three-point shots.

Ten different players average more than 10 minutes a game for Toledo.

“This isn’t a team that we can say, ‘Attack, and get their starting line-up into foul trouble,'” Starkey said. “Toledo as deep a team as there is in the conference. They’ll bring players off the bench, and there’s not much of a dropoff.”

Starkey said the two road wins have made his team act differently.

“The look in their eyes is a little bit different, that ‘Hey, we really can do this.’ You’re starting to see that confidence come out.”

Part of that, the coach said, is understanding the new coaching staff’s  systems.

“The more our team has used our offense and defensive philosophy, the better their understanding. Their confidence builds, and it’s paying off on the court.”

Senior Larissa Lurken continues to lead the Flashes and the MAC in scoring with 22.7 points a game. That’s seventh in the nation.

In six league games, junior forward Jordan Korinek is averaging  19.3 points, fourth best in the conference. She’s sixth in MAC games in field goal percentage (52.4) , 19th in rebounding (5.9) and and 15th in free-throw percentage (79.4). McKenna Stephens has given the Flashes a consistent third scoring threat and is ninth in the conference games in field goal percentage (51.1).

Kent State also has gotten help from other players, like 6-4 sophomore Merissa Barber-Smith, who had 11 rebounds in 15 minutes against Western Michigan, and Alexa Golden, who had two key three-point baskets and six steals against Ohio.

Kent’s RPI, a rating system based on a team’s record, its opponents’ record and opponents’ opponents’ record, is 121 of 349 teams, up more than 60 positions since the Ohio and WMU games. Toledo’s RPI is 115.

If you can’t go to the game

Kent State statistics, with links to roster and schedule/results.

MAC statistics and standings.

 

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