Merissa Barber-Smith (with ball) had her best game in Kent State uniform with 8 points and 13 rebounds. (Photo by David Dermer for Kent State basketball.. Lots more photo’s are on Dermer’s Twitter feed at https://mobile.twitter.com/DavidDermerPix.
Halftime at the WNIT Thursday:
Michigan 43, Kent State 22.
You think, “Well, it was a great season.” And “It’s Michigan — third-place team in the Big Ten. A team that belonged in the NCAA anyway. They’re way out of our league.”
And then the Flashes go out and, amazingly, completely outplay the Wolverines in the second half.
They outscore Michigan 38-24. They outshoot the Wolverines. They outrebound them. They share the ball better. They handle the ball better.
But in the end, a 21-point deficit to one of the top 50 teams in the country as too much to overcome.
So Kent State’s historic season — from 6-23 last season to 19-13 this year — ends in the first round of the WNIT at the Crisler Center at the University of Michigan.
Final score was Michigan 67, Kent State 60.
“I hate to lose, but I’m really proud of this team,” coach Todd Starkey said as his first season came to an end. “I’m as proud as I’ve ever been after a loss in my career. This group…what they’ve been able to accomplish…to watch their belief in us as a staff and to watch their confidence continue to grow…has been an awesome thing. I think it speaks to what togetherness means, when a team dedicates themselves to working together and putting their own concerns secondary.”
The first half felt like Kent State’s games against Big Ten teams before Christmas, when the Flashes were blasted by Iowa and Minnesota on the road.
Thursday Michigan held Kent State to 18 percent shooting in the half. The Flashes turned the ball over 11 times, leading to 13 Michigan points. Meanwhile the Wolverines made 48 percent of their shots and 6 of 11 three-point baskets.
Michigan led 21-13 after a quarter and stretched the lead throughout the second quarter. KSU had just one field goal in the quarter.
But in the second half, the Flashes scored scored the first two baskets and knocked the lead to 12 by the end of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, they got within five points with two minutes to go.
The second half statistics would be striking against any team, let alone one of the best in the Big Ten.
Kent State made 44 percent of its shots, Michigan 31. KSU outrebounded the Wolverines 22-15, with 11 offensive rebounds, The Flashes had eight assists after having only two in the first half. They had four turnovers; Michigan had eight.
Starkey said it was a matter of doing some things differently and just doing things better.
“We moved the ball so much better,” he said. “When we dribbled the ball too much in the first half, it allowed their defense to recover.
“We did a lot of ball screen in the first half, and they were blowing it up. So we wanted to try to run other action — more passing, ball reversal, ball movement.
“We executed much better defensively. And we took care of the ball much better.”
When Kent State rallied in the third quarter, Lurken — the No. 3 scorer in the country — didn’t have a point.
“It shows that this team is much more than just me,” she said. “They stepped up. I didn’t need to score, and I didn’t even think about that.”
McKenna Stephens had seven points in the quarter. Jordan Korinek had four. Merissa Barber-Smith, KSU’s 6-4 sophomore, had four on the way to the best game of her career. She finished with a career-high eight points and a career-high 13 rebounds in 19 minutes. Most of the time she was playing against Michigan’s all-Big Ten center (and Parade high school all-American), 6-5 Hallie Thome. “Outrageous,” Starkey said as Lurken praised Barber-Smith after the game. “Outrageous,” she agreed.
Lurken ends with an NCAA record
It was the last game of a career that saw Lurken set Kent State season records for points per game (23.5), total points (752), free throws attempted (333) and free throws made (280). She is KSU’s career leader in three-point baskets made and attempted.
Her sixth free throw in the first half broke the 35-year-old NCAA record for most free throws in a season.
“I’m really proud of my team and what we accomplished this year,” Lurken said. “It was a great season, and something I’m really proud to be a part of. I’ll never forget it.”
With that,Lurken’s last interview in a Kent State uniform ended.
Starkey, who was standing across the room, walked over and put his arm around her.
They hugged for a long time.
- Kent State outrebounded Michigan 46-34, led by Barber-Smith’s 13. Lurken and Stephens each had 8 rebounds and Jordan Korinek 6. Michigan has a +2.0 rebounding margin for the season and is led by 6-5 all-Big Ten center Hallie Thome. She had 5 rebounds and 13 points. Four of those points came a critical times in the fourth quarter when Kent State had closed the score to within seven. 5-11 forward Jill Duknston led Michigan with 8 rebounds.
- The Flashes had 22 offensive rebounds and scored 20 second-chance points. Michigan had 11 and 10 points following offensive rebounds.
- KSU played its usually aggressive game, trying to draw fouls from Michigan players. Four Wolverines, lincluding two starters, ended with four fouls. Barber-Smith and Korinek had four fouls for KSU. Michigan did manage to become one of the few teams to outscore Kent State at the foul line. The Wolverines made 13 of 14 free throws; Kent was 12 of 18.
- Points in the paint were even at 30. Michigan outscored KSU 17-9 off turnovers (which themselves were even at 15).
- Naddiyah Cross and Lurken had three assists. Alexa Golden had three steals; Stephens and Megan Carter had two each.
- 5-9 Lurken blocked a shot by Michigan’s 6-5 Thome.
- Michigan advances in the WNIT to play Wright State Saturday in Ann Arbor. Wright State, a team Kent beat 79-69 on the road in December, upset MAC regular-season champion Central Michigan 66-64 Thursday.
- It was a bad night for MAC teams. KSU and Central Michigan lost. South Dakota State (23-8) beat Northern Illinois (21-12) 92-84 in South Dakota. Indiana (21-10) beat Ball State (21-11) 71-58 at home. Last MAC team left in the tournament is Ohio (22-9), which plays at Penn State (19-10) Friday.
- Scores and recaps of all WNIT games are at http://www.womensnit.com/gameday-central.html.
- MAC tournament champion Toledo plays Creighton in the NCAA tournament Friday in Corvallis, Oregon. Toledo, which beat Kent State 68-65 in the MAC quaraterfinals, is 25-8 and a 10th seed. Creighton, 23-7 and a seventh seed, won the Big East regular season championship but was upset in the conference tournament.
There are lots of great game photos on David Dermer’s Twitter feed.
Game story from Kent State website.
Game story from Michigan website.