Two star guards: Ally Lehman of Northern Illinois defends Kent State’s Larissa Lurken during KSU’s 98-97 loss to Northern at Kent in January. Lehman shaved her head in January in support of teammate Paulina Castro has been diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. Photo from MAC website.
Kent State’s Larissa Lurken won her third MAC East player-of-the-week honor Tuesday.
Northern Illinois’ Ally Lehman won her fifth in the MAC West.
When you look at the two of them, I’m pretty sure you’re seeing the next player of the year in the conference.
Lurken has had an astonishing season. A year ago, she was the second-leading scorer on a last-place team. I doubt whether anyone even considered her for the preseason all-MAC team. (KSU’s Jordan Korinek made it instead.)
Now Lurken leads the MAC in scoring at 23.2 points a game — about 10 points higher than her average last season. She’s sixth in the country in scoring, first in made free throws and third in free throws attempted. She has scored at least 30 points in a game five times. She will break — or come very close to breaking — Kent State’s single-season scoring record. Her scoring average is the highest in school history.
Lurken is in the top 20 in the MAC in nine of 13 official categories: scoring (first), rebounding (17th), defensive rebounding (12th), free-throw percentage (seventh), steals (13th), three-point percentage and baskets per game (11th) and blocked shots (fifth). She’s third in minutes played. In conference games alone, you can add assists, where she’s ninth.
I’ve argued that without her hugely improved play, KSU would still be close to the bottom of the league. Here’s that post. Instead the Flashes are tied for first place in the MAC East.
Lehman also has had a spectacular season. She’s also in the top 20 in the nine MAC categories: scoring (third), rebounding (second), offensive rebounding (fourth), defensive rebounding (first), assists (third), free-throw percentage (sixth), steals (14th) and assist-turnover ratio (third). She’s fifth in minutes played.
Lehman tied the MAC single-game scoring record with 48 points in a double overtime win over Milwaukee early in the season. She has had two triple-doubles and 15 double-doubles this season (10 times points-rebounds, 5 times points-assists). Her double-double total is eighth in the country; she’s the only guard in the top 30.
Lehman and Lurken also excel off the court. Lurken is a nursing major who was just named to academic all-district. Lehman will be the first student-athlete at NIU to graduate from the school’s ROTC program; she will enter active duty when she starts officer candidate school in May.
So who’s player of the year?
Both are amazingly versatile. Lurken’s No. 1 rank in scoring gives her a higher profile; Lehman’s proficiency in scoring, rebounding and assists is something special, though we could argue her statistics are inflated by her team’s system (NIU averages 87 points a game but doesn’t play much defense).
Lehman’s team has a better record (18-7 to KSU’s 15-11). Both teams have far exceeded expectations this season; KSU was picked 11th in the conference, NIU 10th. The Flashes are currently tied for first in the East, Northern is tied for second in the West.
There are other very good players in the MAC this season, among them guards Quiera Lampkins of Ohio, Presley Hudson of Central Michigan, Stephanie Reed of Buffalo, Jay-Ann Bravo-Harriott of Toledo, center Renee Bennett of Ball State.
If the MVP went, as it often does, to the best player on the best team, it likely would be Lehman, Hudson or Bennett. Central is a game ahead of NIU and Ball State in in the West. All have won more games than Kent State.
It will be an interesting choice. I’ve had a vote the last two years; right now I’d be inclined to vote for a co-award, which they probably won’t let me do.
Lurken’s weekly honor
Lurken scored 10 of Kent State’s 12 points in overtime Saturday to lead the Flashes to their 83-77 overtime victory over defending MAC champion Ohio. She had 31 points, three rebounds, three blocks and two steals in the game.
Sort of unnoticed in the victory, which tied Kent for first in the East, was the fact that Lurken set a MAC single-season record for free throws made. Her 223 made foul shots this season are 10 more than any other player in the country has even attempted this season and 52 away from former Drake player Lori Bauman’s Division I record.
The MAC release on this week’s players of the week.
The KSU website story on Lurken’s honor.
Coach of the year: the same dilemma
If you want to start thinking about that award, look no further than Kent State and Northern Illinois again.
Both NIU’s Lisa Carlsen and Kent State’s Todd Starkey have their teams heading toward at least 10 wins more than last season. Both teams are far above their preseason predictions in the MAC. Both are contending for division titles.
Starkey has done it in his first year at Kent State; Carlsen is in her second year at Northern.
Carlsen and NIU have a better shot at an overall MAC title and almost certainly will have a better overall record. I think Starkey and Kent State’s success is a little more surprising than NIU’s.
Coach of the year often goes to the overall league champion, which is almost certainly going to be NIU, Central Michigan or Ball State. But CMU and Ball State were supposed to be good. Northern and Kent State are playing far better than anyone ever expected.
Wednesday: Kent State at Bowling Green
The Flashes take their 9-5 MAC record to 3-11 Bowling Green Wednesday. (Overall records are 15-11 for Kent, 7-19 for BG.)
Kent State beat the Falcons 80-78 in Kent Jan. 28 on a last-second shot by Megan Carter.
“We have to make sure that Bowling Green is not a trap game for us after this emotional game,” Starkey said after Saturday’s win against Ohio. “We needed a game winner here. We won’t be taking them lightly.”
BG is tied for fourth in the East and ninth overall in the MAC. The Falcons beat Miami 61-59 Saturday, overcoming a 14-point deficit at halftime and surviving four shots in the last 12 seconds that would have tied or won the game for Miami. Sydney Lambert had 20 points and five three-point baskets for Bowling Green.
Lambert had four three-pointers and BG went 9 of 18 overall from behind the arc in the previous Bowling Green-Kent State game. Carli Santoro had a career high 32 points in that game, including 22 in the second half.
Lambert and Santoro are among four guards in the Bowling Green starting lineup; that’s a configuration that has given Kent State problems several times this season.
The game is Bowling Green’s “pink” Play4Kay game, an event for most women’s teams that raises awareness and money for breast cancer research. Kent State’s Play4Kay game was Saturday.
To follow the game
- Online video starts at 7 p.m. on ESPN3. You’ll need a satellite or cable ESPN subscription to be able to see the game.
- Audio starts at at about 6:50 on Golden Flash iHeart radio and 640 AM WHLO.
- Live statistics can be followed though the Bowling Green website.
- In-game updates on Twitter are at @KentStatwbb.
Game preview on the KSU website.
Kent State statistics, with links to roster and schedule/results.
Game preview from the Bowling Green website, with links to roster, schedule/results and statistics.
MAC statistics and standings, with links both to overall and conference-only stats.