First place in East is at stake as Flashes take on Ohio Saturday

Coach Todd Starkey has said for the last few weeks that one of the team’s goals for the season was the play meaningful games in February.

They don’t get a whole lot more meaningful than Saturday’s game against Ohio University at 2 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center.

A win will move Kent State into a tie for first with the Bobcats in the MAC East. More important, it would give them the tie breaker for seeding in the MAC tournament — perhaps the difference between whether the Flashes play a first-round game at home or get a bye directly to the quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Kent State is 8-5 in the conference and 14-11 overall. Ohio, two-time defending regular season conference champion, is a game ahead at 9-5.

KSU’s record is no fluke; biggest proof of that is KSU’s 68-65 victory at Ohio on Jan. 14.

“It’s the toughest game we’ve played all season for a number of reasons,” Starkey said on iHeart Radio’s FlashTalk show on Thursday.”

So here are a few of the reason:

First, of course, is what the game means in the standings. It’s not make or break; there are still five games to go, including a final game against Buffalo, the team that’s just behind KSU in the standings.

Second, Ohio will be seeking revenge for the loss in Athens. Here’s the link to the wbbFlashes report on that game.

Third, Ohio will be smarting from a 70-64 loss Wednesday to Central Michigan, co-leader of the West Division.

Fourth, it’s the next step in Kent State’s extraordinary season that has seen a team — with essentially the same players who went 6-23 last season — win more than twice as many games.

“It’s meaningful that we found a way to get there,” Starkey said. “The game  will be great for Kent State and great to see how the team responds.”

Ohio, Starkey said, has “become a little more rigorous defensively” since playing the Flashes.

“They’re very talented 1 to 5 and good off the bench,” the coach said. “They’re used to winning. They’re not used to this position. The last two years they’ve kind of run away with it, and now they’re being tested.”

Ohio’s leading scorer is senior Quiera Lampkins, a 5-9 senior guard who is averaging 19.4 points in league games. She scored 32 points against Central Michigan. Lampkins is the only Bobcat averaging in double figures.

Ohio has built its 18-6 record on defense. The Bobcats are second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 63.8 points per game, and second in field goal defense, allowing opponents to make 36.8 percent of their shots. They lead the league in turnover margin at +3.2, though Kent State had seven fewer turnovers than Ohio in the teams’ first game (15 for KSU, 22 for OU).

Ohio’s had been struggling with its shooting at the time of its first game with KSU, but the Bobcats’ three-point percentage is up to 34 percent in conference play. It had been 29 percent before the KSU game. But OU made on 6 of 25 three-pointers against Central.

Kent State’s offense also has improved since the first game. The Flashes are averaging 74.6 points in conference games, about five more than their overall average going into the first OU game. Their shooting percentage is also up about 3 points.

Defensively, though, the Flashes are still giving up about 73 points a game.

If KSU can again hold Ohio to the mid-60s, it could be a very good game indeed on Saturday.

Larissa Lurken continues to lead KSU and the MAC in scoring, averaging 24.2 points a game in conference play (22.9 overall). She had eight assists against Eastern Michigan last Wednesday and six against Akron Saturday and is ninth in conference play with 3.9 assists a game. Lurken is in the top 20 in the conference in eight of 12 major categories.

Jordan Korinek is fourth in the MAC in scoring in conference games at 19.5 points a game. She’s also 12th in rebounding at 7.2 and fourth in field goal percentage at 54.5.

McKenna Stephens is 26th in the conference in scoring at 11.5, 17th in rebounding at 6.5 and eighth in shooting percentage at 52.6.

Kent State has been off this week.

“A lot of times it’s better to continue to play (when a team is doing well),” Starkey said. “We needed the rest. It was necessary, but does it make you rusty and throw you off rhythm? We’ll see Saturday.”

It’s KSU’s “pink” game

Saturday is Kent State’s annual “Play4Kay” game to raise money for breast cancer research. The event, celebrated by most women’s basketball teams, is in honor of  Kay Yow, a Hall of Fame coach at North Carolina State who  fought through one cancer diagnosis in 1987 but died after a recurrence in 2008.

The Kent State team is raising money for cancer research before and during the game. The team has been solicited donations on campus and through a website and will take a collection at the game.

Several related promotions are part of the game. The first 350 fans at the game will get a pink t-shirt. The College of Nursing has a “Fill the Seats” event related to its 50th anniversary celebration. (Senior starter Larissa Lurken also is a nursing major.)

Both teams and staff also will be wearing pink. (Fans are asked to, also.)

Athletic officials are hoping for one of the biggest crowds of the year. Average attendance this season has been 397, second lowest in the MAC to Miami. Top announced attendance so far has been 562 at the season opener against Bradley.

Last year’s average attendance was 490, with the largest crowd being just over 1,000 for the Akron game.

Best attendance for the team in my era averaged about 1,100 in the years around 2000, when the Flashes were contending for the conference title almost every year.

Top attendance in the MAC this and every season has been at Toledo, which has drawn an average of 4,050 fans. (That’s higher than all the league’s men’s teams except Ohio and Toledo and 1,500 higher than KSU’s men’s team.) Second is Bowling Green at 1,908, then Central Michigan at 1,568 and Ohio a 1,465.

A view from the student newspaper

Henry Palattella, the sports editor of the Kent Stater, profiled the team and its unexpected success in a story this week.

A link is here, but I have to share his ending:

When asked if she thought the team would be where they’re at now at the beginning of the year, Lurken was quick to respond.

“No way,” she said, before looking over at her coach.

“It’s okay,” Starkey said with a slight grin on his face. “I said the same thing.”

If you can’t go to the game

  • Video starts at 2 p.m. on the Kent State website.
  • Audio starts at about 1:50 on Golden Flash iHeart radio and 640 AM WHLO.
  • Live statistics can be followed though the KSU website.
  • In-game updates on Twitter are at @KentStatwbb.

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

Ohio statistics, with links to roster and schedule/results.

MAC statistics and standings, with links both to overall and conference-only stats.

Going to the dogs

dogs

Kent State’s Pet Therapy Program brought its dogs to practice during the team’s bye week. Above are coach Todd Starkey (in the gray) and players Taylor Parker (left) and Megan Carter.

The video from Facebook Live is adorable.

 

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