Senior Jordan Korinek in action last season. She’s became Kent State’s 21st 1,000-point scorer last season and is the only active MAC player at the level going into this season. (Photo from kentstatesports.com)
The Kent State women open their 2017-18 season Saturday at Northern Kentucky, the first step in life without Larissa Lurken and — for a semester — without Megan Carter.
Lurken, who graduated in May, was MAC player of the year in 2016-17 after what almost certainly was the best season in Kent State basketball history, men’s or women’s. Her 23.5 scoring average was sixth in the country and highest in KSU history. She placed among MAC leaders in 9 of 13 statistical categories. If a team ever had a go-to player, it was she.
Carter, a redshirt sophomore, came on strong at the end of last season as a point guard. She never started but played more minutes than the woman who did, Naddiyah Cross. Starkey calls her the team’s most dynamic perimeter player.
But because of struggles in some lab classes in her former pre-med major, she’s academically ineligible. Coach Todd Starkey said this week that working around her absence was one of the hardest tasks of the non-conference season. (“The players would certainly say so, too,” Starkey said.
The Flashes, 19-13 last season and defending MAC East champions, still have a lot of firepower against Northern Kentucky, which was 9-22 last season but has nine new players on its roster.
6-2 senior forward Jordan Korinek, a preseason all-MAC East selection, is back. She averaged 15 points a game last season (18 in the second half) and is the only active 1,000-point scorer in the conference. Forward McKenna Stephens, back as a graduate student for a redshirt eligibility season, started every game but one last season. She made 44 percent of her three-pointers in conference play last season, best in the MAC, has a deadly 15-foot jumper and can rebound and score inside.
“Everybody who scouts us knows we’re going to play through Jordan,” Starkey said on Kent State’s Flashtalk radio show Thursday. “We just have to make sure we’re moving her around enough so it’s not predictable where she’s going to be. If we go two consecutive trips without the ball touching her hands, we’re not doing what do need to do.
“She doesn’t need to shoot every possession, just touch the ball. When people collapse on her, it opens up things for others, and if she can go one-on-one down low, she’s hard to defend.”
On the perimeter, Starkey said, the Flashes hope to get scoring from redshirt sophomore Tyra James, who is back after missing last year with an injury. James, an athletic 5-11 player, was third on the team in scoring a 9.4 points a game two seasons ago. Starkey also mentioned sophomore Ali Poole, another 5-11 guard who Starkey said had a very good off-season. Poole averaged 4 points in 14 minutes a game last season. She was a big scorer at Carrollton High School and scored in double figures three times last year, including 17 points and 5 for 5 shooting from three-point distance at Wright State.
Starkey said freshman Monique Smith, a 5-10 guard/forward from San Diego, could help the scoring through offensive rebounding and on fast breaks.
Beyond that, we’re likely to see Cross at point guard and Alexa Golden, a two-year starter and defensive specialist, at a guard spot. Golden did some good three-point shooting at the end of last season. Starkey would like to see her keep that up.
We also should see a good bit of Merissa Barber-Smith, a 6-foot-4 junior who averaged three rebounds in seven minutes a game last season and was third on the team in blocked shots. She had 11 rebounds against Western Michigan and 13 against Michigan , both teams with strong front lines, in less than a half of play.
Northern Kentucky is what Starkey called “a hard scout.” NKU has only four players back from last year’s team, which finished seventh in the Horizon League. Redshirt sophomore Molly Click led them with 13 points in a 94-55 romp over NAIA Division II Asbury in an exhibition game Saturday. Click was on the Horizon all-freshman team two years ago but was hurt in the first game of last season.
Six other players scored in double figures, including three freshmen. Senior guard Mikayla Terry, who was the only junior or senior to play, had 11, five assists and six turnovers. 5-10 freshman Kailey Coffee led the Norse with eight rebounds. 6-3 freshman Grayson Rose, who played at Garfield High School in Garrettsville, about 10 miles from Kent, had seven rebounds and 12 points.
Northern Kentucky is smaller than KSU in the post and a little larger at guard.
The game is the first of a road-heavy non-conference schedule for the Flashes. Kent has only two home games before MAC play starts. It plays five away games and five games at neutral sites, including two in the Akron Classic next weekend. Last season the Flashes were 7-7 on the road and 6-6 in the preseason.
The game preview on the team’s website, which has links to the roster, schedule, record book, etc.
Game preview from the Northern Kentucky website, with links to roster, schedule, etc.
To follow the game
The game starts at 1 p.m. Saturday and is on ESPN3. You can watch it online if you subscribe to ESPN on cable or satellite TV.
Audio starts at 12:50 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio.
Live statistics will be available through the Northern Kentucky website.
- Northern Kentucky is in Covington, across the river from Cincinnati. Here are directions if you’re thinking about making the trip. The team’s nickname is the Norse. Mascot is a Viking.
- On the Flashtalk broadcast, Starkey said tentative plans for next season are for the Flashes to open with a weekend visit to North Carolina on Friday and North Carolina State on Sunday. The coach has said many times he believes in a tough non-conference schedule; that’s quite a start.
- Starkey wasn’t ready to name a starting line-up when I met with him this week. Korinek, Stephens and Golden, all starters last season, almost certainly will open the game. Cross, who has started 62 games over three years, probably will, though Starkey was experimenting with James at the point in practice. My guess on the fifth starter would be James if Cross starts at guard and Poole if she doesn’t. It’s possible Smith, the freshman guard/forward, could be in the lineup. I doubt she will be Saturday; I’m pretty sure she will at some point this season.
- Kent State’s next game is at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday at Youngstown State. First home game isn’t until Thursday, Nov. 30, when the Flashes host Detroit Mercy.
- Here’s a preview on the Flashes from Hustle Belt, the website that covers the MAC. The site picked KSU third in the MAC East (coaches picked the Flashes second). An interesting insight from the preview: KSU was third in the conference in turnovers last season; that’s something they’ll need to improve on this year.