It wasn’t Kent State’s best game of the season, but its 73-69 win over Akron Saturday was enough to to all but clinch a first-round bye in the MAC tournament.
The Flashes’ win — combined with Buffalo’s 64-62 upset loss to Bowling Green — means KSU needs to win just one of its last two games to finish fourth in the conference and advance directly to the tournament quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland March 6. KSU plays at 4-12 Miami on Wednesday, then hosts Buffalo Saturday
On Saturday, the Flashes went on a 20-4 run at the end of the second quarter, then held off Akron rallies in the second half.
Larissa Lurken, playing in front of her parents and grandparents from Minnesota, had 28 points. No other KSU player scored in double figures.
Kent State is now 17-11 on the season, 11-5 in the MAC and has won five games in a row. Akron is 9-18 and 2-14. The win meant the Flashes swept their season series with Akron for the first time since 2010-11. They had won only one game over the Zips between then and this season.
“It wasn’t our best defense effort,” coach Todd Starkey said. “I thought we played really well for pockets of time, but our sustained focus and intensity on defense was probably lacking today.
“Akron did a good job of running their action and getting their shots. They probably outplayed us at times.
“But I was proud of the way we dug in and focused on key possessions. We were able to get the ball to the right people in the right positions.”
Kent State led 60-54 with 3:24 to go, but Akron chipped away until it had a chance to tie the game with a three-point shot with 59 seconds to go. Lurken may have tipped the ball on a late close-out on the shooter.
Four free throws by McKenna Stephens and Naddiya Cross in the last 14 seconds finished the game.
“It got a little scary toward the end,” Lurken said at the postgame press conference.
Akron’s comeback with led by 5-4 freshman guard Shaunay Edmonds, who had three steals and 10 points in the fourth quarter. For the game, she had 26 points, nine points above her career high and 19 points above her average.
“I’m sure it was one of the best games of her career,” Lurken said. “But we didn’t follow the scouting report very well. We knew she was going to drive left. We just didn’t stop her.”
When Kent State beat Akron in Akron Feb. 11, it put the game away with a 20-0 in the second quarter. The Flashes did almost the same thing Saturday.
Akron had led through most of the first quarter and pushed its lead to 27-17 with 8:42 to go in the second. Then Kent State held Akron to 2 of 12 shooting for the rest of the quarter and forced five turnovers that led to 13 points. Both Edmonds and Hannah Plybon, Akron’s leading scorer, went to the bench of their second foul in that period. Lurken hit two three-point shots and scored 10 points in that run. Stephens added a three-pointers.
- Merissa Barber-Smith, KSU’s 6-4 sophomore post player, gave the Flashes a major lift off the bench for the second game in a row. She scored four points, had four rebounds and blocked a shot in five minutes.
“Merissa has helped us win no fewer than three games in conference play,” Starkey said. “If we need a help defensively and in rebounding and someone who can contest shots, she gives us a big spark.” (The three games, by the way, are Western Michigan, where she had 11 rebounds in the second half against a tall front line; Wednesday’s Bowling Green game, when she provided a four minute spurt in the third quarter; and Saturday’s Akron game.)
- Kent State actually shot a higher percent on three-point shots — 10 of 22 for 45.5 percent — than it did on two-point shots — 29.5 percent. Lurken had four three-pointers, Alexa Golden and Ali Poole two.
- The Flashes made 17 of 18 free throws, with Lurken hitting 8 of 8.
- Led by four assists from Lurken and Megan Carter, the Flashes had 16 assists on 23 baskets.
- Cross, Golden and Jordan Korinek all had 8 points for KSU. Carter had 6 and Stephens 5.
- Kent State had a season-low eight turnovers for the second game in a row. They Flashes outscored Akron off turnovers 20-11.
- Akron made 55 percent of its shots in the first and fourth quarter. In between they were 10 of 35 for 28.6 percent.
- Kent State held Pybon to 1 of 10 three-pointers and 13 points. She scored only 5 after the first quarter.
- The Zips — a team that’s a little smaller than Kent State — blocked six KSU shots. Akron outrebounded KSU 43-36. Golden, Lurken and Jordan Korinek all had seven for Kent.
- Akron outscored the Flashes 14-2 on fast break points.
- Attendance was 1,073, the first time this season over 1,000.
Game story from Kent State website, including video highlights and interviews with Lurken, Golden, and Starkey.
Game story from Akron website.
I couldn’t find quotes from Akron coach Jodi Kest anywhere.
Other MAC scores
Ball State (13-3, 20-8) tied Central Michigan (13-3, 21-7) for first place in the West with an 81-73 at Ball State.
Bowling Green (4-12, 8-20) 64, Buffalo (9-7, 19-8) 62 at Buffalo. BG trailed by 14 in the third quarter but held Buffalo to 3 of 16 shooting in the fourth.
Northern Illinois (12-4, 19-8) 81, Eastern Michigan (1-15, 6-22) 71 at Eastern.
Ohio (10-6, 19-8) 77, Miami (4-12, 10-19) 63 at Ohio.
Toledo (10-6, 19-8) 75, Western Michigan (7-9, 16-11) 67 at Toledo.
Games stories from MAC website.