Down 10 points halfway through the third quarter, the Kent State women’s basketball team held Northern Kentucky to 3 of 26 shooting for the rest of the game and won its season opener, 59-54.
Other than that defense and a career-high 29 points by senior forward Jordan Korinek, it was not an impressive performance for the Flashes, who return four starters from the team that went 19-13 and won the MAC East last season. Northern Kentucky was 9-22 last year but has an overwhelmingly new roster that includes seven freshmen.
Kent State, a team taller than NKU, was outrebounded 21-7 in the first half and outhustled through much of the game.
“We had a look on our face the whole first half like, ‘What’s going on here? We should be in this game,” Starkey said in his postgame radio interview on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. “Well, when another team outworks you, you don’t deserve to be in the game.
“When we started to match their intensity, better things happened.”
Starkey said he’s made it quite clear to the team he’s not happy with the way they played. He called his talk with them at halftime, when NKU led 34-25, “spirited.”
Northern Kentucky had a 44-34 lead at the 4:47 media timeout in the third quarter. Kent State held the Norse to one point for the next 10 minutes and had a 49-45 lead with five minutes to go in the game.
“Our offensive execution was better,” Starkey said. “Our defense was better. I wouldn’t call any of it good.
“Last year we obviously relied on Larissa Lurken late in the shot clock, and now we have to figure out who our go-to player is going to be late in the shot clock. Until we get some of those issues solved, the biggest thing is just the effort.
“We’ve got to get that fixed because we have a really difficult schedule coming up.”
The Flashes play at Youngstown State Tuesday against a team rebuilt after an injury-damaged season last season. On Friday the play Florida Gulf Coast, a team that was 26-9 and an NCAA qualifier last year.
In the second half Saturday, Kent State turned around major ball handling and rebound problems.
Rebounding in the second half was almost even (25-24 NKU), and the Flashes got important rebounds late in the game. Kent State had 12 turnovers in the first half, only two in the second.
Offensively, Korinek was the story of the game. She made 8 of 15 shots (2 of 2 on three-pointers) and 11 of 13 free throws. Korinek also had two blocks and four rebounds in 36 minutes.
“We have to play through Jordan,” Starkey said. “We did that early. They made some adjustments, and we got away from going inside.”
In the second half, the coach said, “We started to run some more aggressive action to Jordan and got very specific about where we wanted to get the basketball. And she was able to score and get to the foul line.”
Sophomore guard Ali Poole had 12 (4 of 15 shooting, 2 of 8 three-pointers), along with two steals and four rebounds in 38 minutes. McKenna Stephens led the Flashes with eight rebounds, six in the second half. Senior guard Naddiyah Cross had six assists and four steals.
“I’m pleased with the win,” Starkey said. “I’m happy with finding a way to win an ugly game.”
“We’ve got a lot to work on,” Korinek said. “I’m happy we got the W. You kind of move forward and learn from it.”
Starting lineup with Korinek, Stephens, Cross, Poole and junior guard Alexa Golden. All but Poole started last season.
Freshmen Monique Smith and Kasey Toles saw their first first college action. Smith was 2 for 2 shooting with a rebound and a steal (and four fouls) in 12 minutes. Toles had one rebound in six minutes.
Guard Tyra James, playing her missing last season with a knee injury, played 16 minutes and had four points and five turnovers. When Cross wasn’t in the game, she and Poole led the offense.
The Flashes made 35 percent of their shots (17 of 48) and 5 of 13 three-pointers (39 percent), They outscored Northern Kentucky 22-18 in the paint and 18-16 off turnovers. KSU had five second-chance points, NKU 13.
Northern Kentucky was led by redshirt sophomore Molly Glick, who had 15 points (but six turnovers). 5-10 freshman Kailey Coffey had 12 rebounds. Freshman Grayson Rose, who played for Garfield High School in Garrettsville, not far from Kent, had three points and five rebounds.
The Norse shot 31 percent for the game, 18 percent in the second half, and were 5 of 26 (27 percent on three-pointers).
The Flashes play at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday at Youngstown State, the first of a double header for YSU teams. The Penguins lost at Pittsburgh, 66-58, Friday.