Larissa Lurken goes for two of her 28 points against Akron Saturday. Photo from KSU website.
So far it’s been another very nice week for Larissa Lurken.
The senior guard is having one of the greatest seasons in Kent State women’s basketball history.
So far this year, she has:
- Scored her 1,000th point, the 20th player in KSU history to do so.
- Broken the Kent State records for three-point shots made and taken and foul shots made and taken in a season.
- Scored more than 30 points six times.
- Led the nation for months in free throws made and taken. She’s been among the nation’s top scorers all season.
- Become Kent State’s second highest scorer in a season, with a good chance of breaking the 36-year-old record by the time she graduates. She already is averaging more points per game than any Kent State woman ever has in a season.
- Led the Flashes to their best record in six years — 17-11 and 11-5 in the MAC East. In Lurken’s three previous seasons under former coach Danny O’Banion, KSU won a total of 18 games and 10 league games.
Tuesday she was named MAC East player of the week for the second week in a row and the fourth time this season.
She’s playing her last regular season games this week in front of her parents and grandparents, who flew in last weekend from their suburban Minneapolis home to watch her play some of her final games. They were in town for Saturday’s game against Akron (Lurken scored 28 points), are traveling to Miami for Wednesday’s game and will be her Saturday’s Senior Day game against Buffalo.
“It’s phenomenal to have her parents here,” coach Todd Starkey said after KSU’s win over Akron Saturday. “She’s having one of the best seasons in the country. For her parents and grandparents and family to be able to be here is huge for her.
“We’re going to miss her. I don’t know how many times this year we’ve said, ‘Man, wish she was back another year’ so we really get a chance to work with her.
“Late in game situations, it’s nice to have that player that you know you can put the ball in her hands. Typically they get to the free-throw line or get an open look. Or play a two-man game with her and Jordan, and good things are going to happen.'”
Here’s a quick lot at Lurken’s season statistically (for all games, except as noted):
Scoring average: 23.3 points per game, first in the MAC and fifth in Division I. That’s almost 2 points higher than the KSU record (21.5, set by Bonnie Beachy in 1980-81). The men’s record is 23.4, set by Dan Potopsky in 1954-55. Lurken’s average is 9.6 points per game more than she averaged last season.
Scoring points: 652. That’s 142 higher than the second-place scorer in the MAC, Quiera Lampkins of Ohio. It’s 80 points behind Kent’s single-season record of 732, set by Beachy in 34 games in 1980-81. Lurken has played in 28 games and is guaranteed three more — two this week and at least one tournament game. To break it in those three games, she’ll need to average 27 points. If KSU wins and plays a second MAC tournament game — or makes another postseason tournament like the WNIT, Lurken needs to average 16. She’s scored fewer than 16 points only three times this season.
Rebounds: 6.4 per game, tied for 15th in the MAC. She had averaged 3.4 before this season, with her best year being last season at 4.4. She averages 4.6 defensive rebounds a game, 13th in the conference.
Free throw percentage: 84.2, sixth in the MAC. She laps the field in absolute numbers. She’s made more 83 more free throws (239) than anyone else in the conference has even attempted. She set a MAC single-game record when she made 22 free throws against Western Kentucky. Her 25 attempts in that game is second highest in conference history.
Steals: 1.8 per game, 12th in the MAC.
Three-point field goal percentage: 36.4 (ninth).
Three-point baskets per game: 2.1 (10th).
Blocked shots: 1.3 per game (fourth).
Minutes played: 36.4 per game (third).
The only statistical categories she’s not among MAC leaders are assist-turnover ratio, offensive rebounds, and assists. And if you consider only MAC games, she’s ninth in assists at 3.8 per game.
Besides scoring, the most surprising category is blocked shots. Lurken is a 5-9 guard; only one other player in the MAC’s top 15 is a guard (5-11 Destiny Washington of Ball State). Before this season, Lurken had blocked a total of 21 shots in three years. So far this season, she’s blocked 37. She blocked five shots all last season; she’s blocked three in a game five times this year.
Starkey said he once asked Lurken if she considered herself a shot blocker.
“‘No, I’ve never blocked shots,” she replied.
“Well, you do now,” the coach said.
The last road game: Miami
The Flashes play at Miami Wednesday, seeking their fifth sweep of a MAC opponent this season. They’ve already won two games against Ohio, Akron, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan.
Kent State beat Miami 84-66 in Kent on Feb. 1. Lurken had 30 points, Jordan Korinek 21. KSU broke open a close game with a 23-9 third quarter.
Miami is led by two of the league’s better freshmen, 5-3 guard Lauren Dickerson, who had 14 points against KSU in February, and 6-2 forward Savannah Kluesner, who had 15. Dickersonn is the highest scoring freshman in the conference at 15.4 points per game. Kluesner averages 4.8 rebounds (5.8 in MAC play).
Miami is tied for fourth in the MAC East (ninth overall) at 4-12 and is 10-19 overall.
Kent State is leads the East at 11-5 (fourth overall). A win by the Flashes or a loss by Buffalo at Akron Wednesday would clinch the fourth seed and a first-round bye for Kent State at the MAC tournament. If KSU loses and Buffalo wins, the teams’ game Saturday would determine the bye.
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 Miami 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 Miami website, with links to roster, schedule/results and statistics.
MAC statistics and standings, with links both to overall and conference-only stats.
Flashes celebrate as Megan Carter rings the victory bell. Photo from Kent State athletics website.
After losing a four-point lead in the last minute of regulation, Kent State set out to make sure it didn’t happen again in overtime.
Even after they fell behind early in the extra period, the Flashes came back to take — and hold — a six-point lead to beat Ohio 83-77 and move into a first-place tie in the MAC East Saturday at the M.A.C. Center.
KSU took three charges in the last minute. Larissa Lurken made six free throws and scored 10 of Kent’s 12 overtime points. And the Flashes held OU without a field goal for the last three minutes.
“It’s a huge win for us,” coach Todd Starkey said after the game, repeatedly saying how proud he was of the team and individual players in his postgame radio show and press conference. “The key word was resilience.”
“This group — they’re just fighting together,” he said. “They have a level of belief of themselves and each other now that’s getting them through it. It has been a great experience to see this metamorphosis take place – from where we were in summer and where we are now.”
The victory ties Kent State for first place in the MAC East and in fourth place overall in the conference. That’s important because the first four teams get a first-round bye in the MAC Tournament. If KSU and Ohio were to tie in the standings, Kent would get the bye because the Flashes have beaten Ohio — two-time defending MAC regular season champion — twice this season.
Kent State is now 15-11 on the season, 9-5 in the conference. Fifteen games is more than KSU won in the last two seasons combined. The Flashes were 6-23 and 11th in the MAC last season and were picked to finish last this year.
Ohio is 18-7 and 9-5.
Lurken led Kent State with 31 points despite sitting out 13 minutes of the first half with foul trouble. Jordan Korinek had 15 despite picking up her second four just four minutes into the game. McKenna Stephens had 15 points and 11 rebounds in a career-high 42 minutes, and Megan Carter had a career-high 14 points.
Starkey said that how Kent State handled that first half foul trouble was crucial to the game. The Flashes played 12 people in the first half; many times this season they’ve played only eight.
“Ohio could have pushed in out to 10 or 15 points,” the coach said. “To keep it to three was really important.We had to play some crazy lineups. We subbed in and out – offensive for defense – in the second quarter just like we would at the end of the game. A bunch of kids had to come in and do it. They were part of this.”
Kent State trailed 31-28 at halftime, took the lead by one in the middle of the third quarter, then fell behind by a point at the end of the quarter. The Flashes took the lead with 5:15 to go in regulation and pushed it to six points with 1:12 to go. But Ohio came back with three offensive rebounds on one possession and scored with six seconds left to make the score 71-69.
Kent advanced the ball to front court with a timeout, but Ohio’s Kelly Karlis, standing at 6-2 in front of KSU’s 5-6 Megan Carter on the inbound, grabbed her pass out of the air and drove the length of court for the tying basket.
“They were down coming over the huddle at the end of regulation,” Starkey said. “I get that because they fought so hard. That’s hard to come back from. And Ohio got up by three, and we still came back. For us to grit it out at the end…I’m so proud of their fight.”
Carter said it was a matter of not giving up.
“I know I had a couple of turnovers and missed free throws, but, ‘Next play,’ that’s all I thought about, ‘Next play.’ Just get the job done. Focus on the main goal – to win the game.”
In the huddle before overtime, Carter said, Starkey asked her, “Are you tough enough for this?”
“Coach, I’m made for it,” she replied.
In the overtime, Carter said, the strategy was simple: “Get the ball in Larissa’s hands and let her do what she does best.”
After Ohio took a three-point lead, Lurken hit two straight 8-foot jump shots, then made six foul shots in the last 33 seconds.
But the key plays in the last minute were on defense.
The Flashes drew three charging fouls — two by Alexa Golden —as Ohio players were driving to the basket in the last minute.
“That won the game,” Starkey said simply.
Golden didn’t score a point but had six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals in 39 minutes. “You won’t find a better player in the country today with zero points,” Starkey said.
Two other heroes for the Flashes:
Stephens played 42 of the game’s 45 minutes. She made 5 of 8 field goals, 4 of 4 foul shots, had 11 rebounds, an assist, a block and three steals. Her nine points in the first half kept KSU in the game when Korinek and Lurken were in foul trouble.
“McKenna might be the most improved player in the conference from the beginning of the season,” Starkey said. “Her defense, her rebounding and scoring have been great.”
Senior forward Chelsi Watson played 21 minutes, her most since November, and had six points, six rebounds and a steal. At the end of the game, she alternated on offense and defense with Korinek, KSU’s second-leading scorer.
“Chelsi makes more sense defensively when they’re spreading out the court with shooters and trying to drive it on us,” Starkey said. “Chelsi can rebound and can guard 1 through 5 (all positions).”
- The game was full of fouls. Lurken, Korinek, Golden, Carter and Ali Poole all had two in the first half. So did Ohio’s Quiera Lampkins, Hannah Boesinger and Katie Barker. Jasmine Weatherspoon, OU’s leading rebounder and shot blocker, had three. Eventually Weatherspoon, Lampkins, Karlis, and Boesinger fouled out. Lampkins and Weatherspoon — OU’s two best players — didn’t make it to overtime.
- Ohio’s 36 fouls meant a lot of free throws for Kent State. But the Flashes — who lead the nation in made foul shots and are third in free throws attempted — missed the most they have all season. KSU was 29 of 45. The 45 attempts were the most for any MAC team this season. The 29 made free throws were about fifth highest in the MAC.
- Lurken’s 31 points were the sixth time this season she’s scored at least 30. She leads the MAC and is fifth in Division I with an average of 23.2 a game. Saturday she made 9 of 22 field goals (8 of 16 in the second half) and 12 of 13 free throws. She also had three rebounds, two assists and three blocks. At 5-foot-9, Lurken is fourth in the conference in blocked shots.
- Kent State took just seven three-point shots, making two. “Ohio is not going to give you a whole lot of open looks on the perimeter,” Starkey said. “They press up on you and switch a lot on screens. We look to take shots that are open. We knew we needed to get the ball inside and drive it.”
- Ohio, on the other hand, took 32 three-pointers, making seven.
That’s 21.9 percent, 12 points below the Bobcats’ conference average.
- Overall Ohio made 28 of 75 shots or 37.3 percent. Kent had 20 few shots — mostly because it shot so many free throws — and made 26 of 55 or 47.3 percent. That’s about 6 points above the Flashes’ average.
- Ohio forced 13 turnovers and had nine steals in the first half, but only eight and six in the second half and overtime. The Bobcats scored 18 points off KSU turnovers. Kent State scored 12 off 16 Ohio turnovers. In the second half and overtime, the Flashes scored 10 off 11 turnovers.
- Kent State outrebounded Ohio 43-39. In the second half it was Ohio, 28-25.
- KSU had 13 assists on 26 baskets, Ohio just 9 on 28.
- The Flashes equaled a season high with 7 blocked shots.
- It was Kent State’s first win in three overtime games. The Flashes lost to Robert Morris and Western Kentucky in non-conference play.
- The lead changed hands 15 times and the score was tied eight times. Neither team led by more than six points.
- Lampkins, who led Ohio with 18 points, is the best friend of Kent State reserve forward Zenobia Bess, according to her parents, who sat behind me at the game. Bess came into the stands to give the Lampkins a big hug after the game.
- Attendance was announced at 713, highest of the season. About 150 were Ohio fans.
Kent State travels to 7-19 Bowling Green Wednesday. The Falcons, 3-11 in the MAC, beat Miami (9-18, 3-11) in Miami Saturday, 61-59. Kent State needed a last-second shot from Carter to beat BG in Kent, 80-78.
The view from Ohio
Coach Bob Boldon, quoted on the Ohio athletics website.
“I thought Kent played a good game. I thought we played a good game; unfortunately they got the better of us. Much like the CMU game, obviously there were some mistakes that we made.
“They’re a good squad. They’ll probably be a top four team. Unfortunately for us, that means we probably won’t be. This conference is as good as it’s ever been. There’s a lot of good teams, and I think we’re one of those teams.
“It’s just we fell a little bit short this week. It’s been a rough week for us, and it’s not going to get any easier for us on Wednesday.” (Ohio lost to league-leading Central Michigan 70-64 in Athens Wednesday and plays at Buffalo on Wednesday. Buffalo is in third in the East, a game behind Kent and Ohio.)
“You have to give our kids a lot of credit for coming back, tying the game and sticking to it. (We were) dealing with players fouling out and especially when you would argue our four, five or six best players didn’t play in the last couple minutes of the game and entire overtime.
“Our kids showed a lot of toughness and resiliency, but it didn’t go our way and that’s unfortunate. I know those kids in the locker room feel bad about that. We’re going to take tomorrow off and try to get back to it on Wednesday.”
Game story from the Kent State website, including video highlights and interviews with Carter and Starkey.
Game story from Ohio website.
There are some great photos of the game at David Dermer’s Twitter feed.
Other MAC scores
Central Michigan (12-2, 20-6) took sole possession of first place in the MAC West with a 72-61 victory over Toledo at home. Toledo is 8-6, 17-8 and a game behind Kent State and Ohio in the overall standings. KSU holds the tie breaker over Toledo because of a 70-60 victory over the Rockets in Kent last month.
Ball State (11-3, 18-8) tied Northern Illinois for second in the West with a 92-84 victory at Northern. Northern is 11-3 and 18-7.
Buffalo (8-6, 18-7) beat Akron (2-12, 9-16), 81-51 at Buffalo.
Western Michigan (7-7, 16-9) beat Eastern Michigan (1-13, 6-20), 70-60 at Western.
The game was Kent State’s “Play4Kay” game to support research against breast cancer.
KSU President Beverly Warren, who had surgery for breast cancer herself last summer, told the crowd before the game that she had gone to college with Kay Yow, the Hall of Fame North Carolina State coach whom the event was named after. Yow died in 2009 after her second occurrence of breast cancer.
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
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.
Central Michigan beat Ohio in Athens, 70-64, on Wednesday, which sets up a battle for first place in the MAC East in Kent Saturday.
Ohio is now 9-4 in the MAC, 19-6 overall. Kent State is 8-5 and 14-11.
The Flashes have already beaten OU once this season. If they could win again Saturday, they’d be tied with the Bobcats and hold the tie breaker were the teams to finish with the same conference record.
That could mean a first-round bye in the MAC Tournament. Ohio currently is fourth in the conference, Kent State tied for fifth. The first four teams get a bye to the quarterfinal in Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The next four host first-round games.
Kent State was idle on Wednesday.
Cassie Breen had five three-point baskets and 26 points for Central. The Chippewas took the lead with a 22-11 second quarter and never trailed in the second half, though Ohio cut the lead to one several times in the fourth quarter.
Quiera Lampkins had 32 points and eight rebounds for Ohio. But the Bobcats shot only 30.3 percent from the floor and went 6 of 25 on three-pointers.
Central’s record is 11-2 in the MAC, 19-6 overall. Ohio is 18-6 overall.
Buffalo, which trails Kent State by a game in the standings, escaped an upset at last-place Eastern Michigan. Final score was Buffalo 56, EMU 52. Buffalo is 7-6 in the MAC and 17-7 overall. Eastern is 1-12 and 5-19.
There were two other near upsets.
Northern Illinois, which is tied for first in the West with Central Michigan, beat Miami 63-61 in Miami. NIU is 11-2 and 18-6, Miami 3-10, 7-17.
Miami’s loss means Kent State has clinched a first-round home game in the tournament.
Toledo, which is tied with Kent in the overall MAC standings at 8-5, came from behind in the fourth quarter to beat Akron in Akron, 61-57. Should Toledo and KSU be tied at the end of the season, the Flashes hold the tie breaker because of a 70-60 win in Kent in January.
Toledo is 16-7 overall. Akron is 2-11 and 7-15.
In the other game Wednesday, Western Michigan (6-7, 15-9) beat Bowling Green (2-11, 4-18) at Bowling Green.
Standings look like this:
East: Ohio (9-4), Kent State (8-5), Buffalo (7-6), Miami (3-10), Akron (2-11), Bowling Green (2-11).
West: Central Michigan (11-2), Northern Illinois (11-2), Ball State (10-3), Toledo (8-5), Western Michigan (6-7), Eastern Michigan (1-12).
MAC statistics (not counting Wednesday games)
Chart is from the MAC sports information office
The magic number for Kent to host a MAC Tournament game is one.
If the Flashes — currently fifth in the MAC standings at 8-3 — win one more game or Miami — currently ninth — loses one, KSU can do no worse than an eighth seed in the tournament.
The first four seeds in the tournament get a first-round bye and will play in the quarterfinals of tournament at Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday, March 8. The second four play home games against the lowest seeds on Monday, March 6. The winner of those games advance to the quarterfinals.
Kent State hasn’t made it to Cleveland through either a first-round win or a bye since 2010-11.
Right now the Flashes would have the fifth seed and play last place Eastern Michigan, a team they’ve beaten twice by an average of 18.5 points.
The chances of KSU getting a first-round bye pretty much boil down to this Saturday’s game against 9-3 Ohio, which is a game-and-a-half ahead of Kent in the standings.
Kent State beat Ohio in Athens Jan. 14. If the Flashes were to win again, they’d have the tie breaker if the teams finished with the same league record. OU would still have to lose another game; it has a tough one Wednesday at home against Central Michigan, the current co-leader in the West Division.
KSU is a half game ahead of 7-5 Toledo and holds the tiebreaker against the Rockets because of a 70-60 win against Toledo Jan. 21.
The Flashes are a game-and-a-half ahead of seventh-place Buffalo (6-6), but the Bulls beat KSU 77-62 in their first meeting. The teams meet again in Kent the last game of the season. If Buffalo wins that game, it will hold the tie breaker against Kent.
Buffalo also has a home game against Ohio this month. The three teams’ record against each other will pretty much decide the Eastern Division title and the fourth seed in the tournament.
All of them also face 2-10 Akron, 2-10 Bowling Green and 3-9 Miami.
Ball State in the West Division is two full games ahead of Kent State. Central Michigan and Northern Illinois are two-and-a-half. Catching them is not impossible — those teams play each other, Toledo and Western Michigan. But all three beat Kent State earlier this season and hold that tie breaker.
That’s a lot of ground to make up. Kent State would likely have to beat either Buffalo or Ohio to have any chance of doing it. And if the Flashes do, they might pass Ohio in the standings.
Who gets the higher seed if Ohio, Buffalo and/or Kent split? As I understand it, that’s decided by who has the best record against the highest ranking team in the league.
For example, if Central Michigan wins the overall MAC championship, any team that beat CMU would have a tie breaker over a team that lost to the Chippewas. Ohio has beaten Ball State and lost to Central Michigan (and plays the Chipps again this week). Buffalo has beaten Central Michigan but lost to Ball State. Neither Buffalo, Kent State nor Ohio has beaten Northern Illinois.
If schools tied in the standings have the same record against the best team, then the seeding is decided by the best record against the second-best team, and so on.
But that’s getting pretty complicated. We’ll revisit it several times, I’m sure, over the next few weeks.
McKenna Stephens takes aim. Photo from KSU website.
The win was five years coming, but the key was seven minutes in the second quarter.
After Akron had broken a first 15-15 tie at the quarter with a 7-2 run, Kent State’s Marissa Barber-Smith scored under the basket on a pass from Megan Carter.
Then the Flashes scored every way they could: A foul shot and a layup by Larissa Lurken. An offensive putback by Chelsi Watson. Two straight three-point baskets by McKenna Stephens off passes from Lurken and Carter. Then a three-pointer by Carter.
20 straight points later Kent State was on its way to its first victory over Akron since February 2012. The Flashes had lost eight straight to the Zips; senior Lurken had never beaten Akron.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Stephens, who had a career-high 20 points and four three-point baskets. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve lost, which has been” — she paused — “horrible.”
“We’ve been talking about Akron since the beginning of the season. But,” she said, looking at coach Todd Starkey as he whispered in her ear, “we’ve been trying to stay focused at one game at a time.”
The final score was 72-58.
Kent State is 14-11 and 8-5 in the conference. They’re in second place in the Eastern Divsion, a game and half behind Ohio, which beat Ball State, 72-68, Saturday at Ball State. Before that game, Ball State had the best record in the MAC.
The victory cemented Kent State’s spot in fifth place overall in the league. Buffalo, which had been a half game behind the Flashes, lost to Northern Illinois at home, 89-80.
Akron, struggling through its worst season since 2010-11, is 9-14 and 2-10 in the conference.
Korinek had 17 points and Lurken 14 for the Flashes. It was the lowest point total in the MAC season for Lurken, who leads the conference in scoring and was fifth in the nation going into Saturday’s game. It was only the third conference game where she scored less than 20 points. But she also had six assists, four steals, four rebounds and two blocked shots.
But it was Stephens’ game in many ways. Her four three-pointers were a career best. She now has 19 for the year on 52 shots — 35.2 percent. She had 12 all last season.
“I was just a midrange player, and I really wanted to expand my game,” she said. “It was a focus over the summer and preseason.”
Starkey said the Stephens’ scoring — almost double in conference play over the early season — has made a big difference in the Flashes’ offense.
“McKenna and Jordan have really come a long ways since our conference season started,” the coach said. “When we have three people who can score the ball like Larissa, Jordan and McKenna, it makes it so much harder to defend us.”
Before the league season, Stephens and Korinek were averaging about 16 points between them. In the MAC, they’re averaging almost 30.
Stephens said that setting screens for other players is key to her offense.
“Screens for Larissa get me pretty open because they’re so worried about her, they’re sending two people,” she said. “It’s leaving me wide open.”
“So you just screen…” Starkey said to her teasingly at the press conference.
“I screen, and I get open, and I shoot,” Stephens said.
Stephens made 8 of 13 shots Saturday. Her 52 percent shooting on field goals in MAC play ranks ninth in the conference.
Kent State had 20 assists on its 29 baskets, its second straight game over 20.
“Our offensive efficiency was really good,” Starkey said. “I thought we did a great job of finding the right person based on the way we were being defended.
“We’ve been a little stagnant offensively, so we try to put in a few different things that will counteract the way teams are beginning to defend us, especially Larissa and Jordan.
“We had some good looks at first and second options in the offense, but when we swung the ball to the other side of the floor, and found the third and fourth options, we really got some good looks. And we were patient enough to execute to get the ball where it needed to be and finish plays.”
Kent State now gets a week to prepare for first-place Ohio, which is in Kent for a 2 p.m. game Saturday. The Flashes beat OU in Athens 68-65 on Jan. 14. They’re the only team to beat Ohio at home this season. “They’re going to come in ready to fight,” Starkey said.
But in the meantime, the Flashes get some time off.
“We need it,” Starkey said. “We’re the third week of the byes, so we’re the last round. We kind of feel like getting to this point was survival for us. We need the rest. We’ve got players who have played significant minutes.”
Stephens put it like this:
“A lot of our players need some rest. The legs – and everything.”
- Kent State dominated the second and third quarters, outscoring Akron 44-24. In the fourth quarter, Starkey said, “We sort of took our foot off the gas.” A statistic that shows that: For three quarters, the Flashes outscored Akron off turnovers 26-12. At the end of the game, it was 26-22.
- The Flashes made 29 of 60 shots for 48.3 percent. Akron was 22 of 64 for 34.4 percent.
- The 58 points were the fewest Kent has allowed in the conference season and the third fewest of the year. It was 14 points below their opponents’ season average.
- KSU outscored Akron in the paint 34-24 despite Korinek’s missing the whole second quarter with foul trouble.
- Redshirt freshman Carter played a career-high 33 minutes, scoring nine points and having four assists. She came in when starting point guard Naddiyah Cross picked up her second foul two minutes in the game. Carter played so well that Cross couldn’t get back int he game.
- KSU shot only 13 free throws, making 8. Both were the Flashes second lowest totals of the year (they were 5 of 8 at Iowa). Kent had been leading the nation in made free throws and was third in attempts. Lurken was 6 of 8; she still leads Division I in free throws made and attempted.
- Hannah Plybon had 24 points and five three-pointers (out of 16 attempts) for Akron. No other Zip had more than six.
- The win gives Kent State a half point in the Crystal Clinic Wagon Wheel Challenge, the all-sports competition between Kent and Akron. The Zips lead 3.5-2.0.
The view from Akron
Coach Jodi Kest
“Today Kent State was the better team and even beforehand, they had been playing better basketball than us. So we knew we had to do certain things in order to beat them, and we didn’t do those things.”
“We decided to take away things from one person and allow other people to score, and some of those people did that.”
“I think their seniors were tired of losing to us these last three years. I could see in their eyes when they came out for warmups that they were 100 percent focused on this game and their season.”
“Kent State did a really good job of executing their stuff — excellent job. When they had mismatches, they took advantage of it. They did a great job of sharing the ball. This team is not just about Jordan and Larissa. I think Larissa — yes, she is scoring a lot of points and all that, but she’s a very unselfish player. She’s always looking to pass to her teammates.”
“Those kids at Kent State just have a lot of confidence right now, and it shows in how they play. Right now we don’t have great confidence. All we can do is learn from this game and get back on Wednesday and regroup. It’s going to be about working a little bit harder than we have and fighting a little bit harder.”
“Hopefully we can learn from tonight because Kent State, regardless of whether things went good or bad, they fought for 40 minutes.”
“For us, it continues to be the same things. It’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s about doing the little things that we need to do. It’s about knowing what your role is. We just take too many bad shots and execute poorly. When we take bad shots, it doesn’t matter to me whether it goes in. It’s just bad. I’d rather we take good shots and it goes in and out. Because every time we take bad shots, bad things happen in transition.”
Game story from Kent State website, including video highlights and interviews with Stephens and Starkey.
Game story from the Akron website.
Game story from KentWired (the student newspaper website), which includes extra photos from the game.
Other MAC scores
Central Michigan (18-6, 10-2) 94, Western Michigan (14-9, 5-7) 83 at Central. The victory moves Central into a tie for first in the West with Northern Illinois.
Northern Illinois (17-6, 10-2) 89, Buffalo (16-7, 6-6) 80 at Buffalo.
Ohio (18-5, 9-3) 72, Ball State (17-8, 10-3) 68 at Ball State.
Miami (9-16, 3-9) 79, Eastern Michigan (6-18, 1-11) 63 at Eastern.
Toledo (16-7, 7-5) 74, Bowling Green (6-18, 2-10) 59 at Toledo.
Game stories from MAC website.