“Great,” junior forward Jordan Korinek called it.
“Amazing,” said junior guard Naddiyah Cross.
“I certainly didn’t expect it,” coach Todd Starkey about the last-place team he took over in April.
But Kent State’s women’s basketball team — 6-23 a year ago and no better than ninth in the Mid-American Conference for the last five years — clinched at least a share of the East Division title Wednesday with a 78-51 victory.
The victory is Kent State’s sixth in a row and 11th in its last 13 games. It gives them a 12-5 record in the MAC and an 18-11 for the season. It clinches a first-round bye in next week’s MAC tournament. Eighteen is as many games as the team won in the last three years combined.
Larissa Lurken — perhaps the leading candidate for conference player of the year — had one of her best all-around games in her spectacular senior season. She had 24 points — one above her league-leading average. She had 9 rebounds. She had 7 assists, 3 steals and a blocked shot.
In his postgame radio interview on WHLO, Starkey tried to put the season in perspective.
“I’ve never been part of anything like this,” he said. “I’ve won championships before, had some great runs. But to see what this group of girls has done since Day 1 when we got here and to see the metamorphosis that’s taken place and where we are now — I certainly didn’t expect it.
“I wanted to bring a championship mentality here. They just bought into everything we said. They actually believed it…how about that? They’ve been fighting, digging, clawing all the way through.
“What a great thing for these players and for Kent State to bring a championship back to Kent.
“This group is just really connected. They really believe in each other. They do a really good job of making adjustments as we’re going through the game. They’ve gotten so much better at that as we’ve gone through the year.
“They looked at that tough non-conference schedule and said, ‘Hey, why not? Let’s do it. It’s exciting to us.’
“Then we get down to Florida (at the Gulf Coast Showcase tournament, where they looked to be the weakest team in the field) and do some nice things, and that’s a kind of trigger for us.
“And people have to remember that we started off 1-3 in the league. To battle back and be 12-5 at this point is a phenomenal, phenomenal thing for this group.
“It hasn’t always been pretty, but we’ve found ways to win games when we weren’t playing our best. And when we do play well on the defensive end, and we’re making shots, we’re a pretty tough team to beat.”
Wednesday KSU ran off to a 16-2 lead, then saw Miami come back to tie the game at 20 four minutes into the second quarter.
But the Flashes went on a 20-6 run to finish the first half, then outscored the Redhawks 20-10 in the third quarter. The 27-point margin was Kent State’s biggest of the season; 51 points were the fewest the Flashes have allowed this year.
Kent State comes home Saturday for Senior Day against Buffalo — the last game in Kent for Lurken and the team’s other seniors. Buffalo was the last team to beat Kent State and did it soundly — 77-62 in Buffalo Feb. 4. The Flashes haven’t beaten the Bulls since 2011.
Then the Flashes are off until a Wednesday quarterfinal game at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
“We’re not done,” Korinek said. “We’ve got a bigger goal — winning the tournament.”
- The last time the Flashes won a division championship was 2004-05, when they tied for first with Marshall. Lurken would have been in about the fourth grade then.
- Northern Illinois lost to Toledo 79-75 Wednesday, so the Huskies are now tied with Kent State for third in the overall standings. The Flashes could slip into the third seed in the tournament if NIU loses at Western Michigan Saturday and KSU beats Buffalo. If the KSU and Northern tie, Northern owns the tiebreaker because it beat KSU twice.
- It’s also possible Ohio could tie the Flashes if the Bobcats beat Akron and KSU loses to Buffalo. But Kent State will still get the first-round bye because the Flashes beat Ohio twice this season.
- Korinek had 20 points and 12 rebounds, her fifth double-double of the season. Many of her points came on passes from Lurken. She had a season-high four assists, many of them passes to Lurken. She made 8 of 12 shots, including a three-pointer, and had three blocked shots, her most of the season.
- McKenna Stephens had 14 points on 6 of 11 shooting, including two three-pointers when KSU took control of the game in the second quarter. She also had 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block. Alexa Golden had 8 points and 5 rebounds. She had two three-point baskets for the third game in a row.
- KSU outrebounded Miami 44-27 (15-8 on offensive rebounds) and outscored the Redhawks 32-22 in the paint.
- Kent State had 15 turnovers, Miami 17, with the Flashes outscoring the Redhawks 20-16 off turnovers.
- Freshman guard Lauren Dickerson and sophomore forward Kendall McCoy each had 15 for Miami. Kent State held the Redhawks to 33 percent shooting, 8 points better than KSU’s defensive average. The Redhawks were 5 of 20 from three-point distance.
- Miami is 4-13 in the MAC and 10-20 for the season.
- All 13 Kent State players in uniform got into the game.
Game story from the Kent State website.
Game story from the Miami website, including video highlights and interview with coach Cleve Wright.
Game story from KentWired, website of the Kent Stater student newspaper.
The view from Miami
Coach Cleve Wright, from video on the Miami website:
“We came out not hitting shots, dug a hole, came all the way back. I thought we showed a lot of heart in that. Then we allowed them to go on a run again.”
“The most disappointing thing was our effort on boards. We had eight offensive rebounds. When you shoot 25 percent in the third quarter and 28 in the fourth quarter, there’s a lot of offensive rebounds to be had. When you’re shooting that poorly, you have to get second-chance opportunities.”
“We did a good job in the first half of keeping them off the free throw line — they only shot four free throws.”
In the second half, “They started getting confident and getting into rhythm and came out and really knocked some shots down”.
“Apparently we didn’t prepare them enough for what we wanted to do on the defensive end. I don’t think we challenged them as well as we should have. I think we got flat and out of position.”
On a flagrant foul called against Miami’s Savannah Kluesner in the second quarter that led to a lengthy delay while officials reviewed video:
“One of the turning points. I thought it was going to be for us, and it ended up being against us. I think we did not respond well after that.”
Kent State went on a 13-2 run after the foul.
Other MAC scores
Ball State (14-3, 21-8) 64, Eastern Michigan (1-16, 6-23) 54 at Eastern.
Central Michigan (14-3, 22-7) 94, Western Michigan (7-10, 16-12) 73, at Western.
Toledo (11-6, 20-8) 79, Northern Illinois (19-9, 12-5) 75 at Northern.
Ohio (11-6, 20-8) 79, Bowling Green (4-13, 8-21) 68 at Ohio.
Buffalo (10-7, 20-8) 81, Akron (2-15, 9-19) 55 at Akron.
Game stories from MAC website.