Kent State knew how Florida Gulf Coast was going to play. The Flashes had video of FGCU’s first two wins. They had played them last Thanksgiving (and won their biggest non-conference game).
But it didn’t make any difference in the first half Friday night.
The Eagles, ranked No. 4 in this week’s Mid-Major Poll, spread the floor, made three-point shots from everywhere and drove hard to the basket.
Kent State couldn’t stop them.
Florida Gulf Coast ran to a 55-29 first-half lead in the game at the Akron Classic and went on to hand the Flashes their first loss of the 2017-18 season. The final score was 80-62. FGCU is now 3-0 on the season; Kent State is 2-1.
“Defensively we just running around out there, not connected all,” Kent State coach Todd Starkey said. “Everything that we had practiced the last two days just went right out the window. I was disappointed in our effort. We just gave up on plays.
“And Florida Gulf Coast is really good. There aren’t a lot of teams in the country that can make you play quicker for your mistakes.”
Florida Gulf Coast made 9 of 18 three-point shots in the first half and 10 of 25 overall (62 percent). The Eagles forced 12 Kent State turnovers and turned them into 12 points.
Kent State played much better in the second half, actually outscoring FGCU 33-25 and holding the Eagles to 33 percent shooting. But the Flashes never got closer than 15 points.
“We took them out of their rhythm,” Starkey said. “We did a much better job defensively. We didn’t give up second-chance points. We took charges on straight-line drives we were just reaching and missing on in the first half.
“We talked at halftime that no matter what the score, we did not want to practice bad habits in the second half. We practiced a lot of them in the first half.”
Things started to go bad for the Flashes in the first 90 seconds when leading scorer Jordan Korinek picked up two fouls, both on offense. KSU’s basic game plan is to get the ball to Korinek on most plays, even if she doesn’t shoot. That was especially true against Florida Gulf Coast, which is not a tall team.
When Korinek got back in the game in the second quarter, she scored 12 points on six of nine shooting. But she picked up her third foul in the last minute of the half when she stumbled over a FGSU guard who had stopped suddenly 20 feet from the basket. Overall, Korinek played only 20 minutes. She scored 19 points and had five rebounds, her most of the season.
“We have to be ready to react to that,” Starkey said. “Otherwise everybody’s going to try to get her in foul trouble right out of the gate.”
The Flashes play a second game in Akron at noon Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana, which lost to Akron 66-54 Friday. Southeastern is 0-4 on the season. The Zips (1-1) will play Florida Gulf Coast Saturday afternoon.
- Junior guard Alexa Golden hobbled off the court with an ankle injury after she was fouled at the end of the first half. She didn’t play in the second half, and Starkey didn’t know her status for Saturday’s game. Golden started every game she was healthy last season and led the Flashes with 17 points in their win over Youngstown State Tuesday.
- Kent State’s 62 points were its most of the season, but Florida Gulf Coast’s 80 was by far the most the Flashes have allowed. FGCU’s 55 first-half points were more than either Northern Kentucky or Youngstown State scored against KSU in a game.
- The 18-point margin was the closest any team has come to Florida Gulf Coast this season. The Eagles beat Illinois by 24 and Florida International by 36. They were 26-9 last season and beat Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
- Kent State’s 41.7 percent shooting was its best of the season. The Flashes outrebounded the Eagles 37-31. They had 23 turnovers to Florida Gulf Coast’s 13.
- Ali Poole was the only Kent State player besides Korinek to score in double figures with 11 points. She made four of eight shpts and had four rebounds. McKenna Stephens had 10 rebounds to lead KSU in that category for the third game in a row. She also had seven points.
- Redshirt junior Tyra James started the second half in place of Golden and had eight points, her high for the season, and four rebounds in 20 minutes.
- Freshman Erin Thames saw the first action of her career and had four points — all on free throws — and three rebounds in six minutes. Fellow freshmen Monique Smith (one point and four rebounds in 25 minutes) and Kasey Toles (one rebound in five minutes) also saw action.
- Officials called 45 fouls, including a technical against Starkey in the first half when he complained loudly about a foul call and two technicals against Florida Gulf Coast players for very mild trash talking. The officials gave James an extra foul shot after a timeout. (She had already shot two before it was called.) They canceled the point after consulting with the scorer’s table. Three Florida Gulf players fouled out.
- Nasrin Ulel led three FGCU players in double figures with 19 points.
- Florida Gulf Coast coach Karl Smesko is a 1993 Kent State graduate. Wikipedia says he walked on to the KSU men’s team as a senior but left the team to take care of a family member. He has a 468-109 career record and has been Atlantic Sun coach of the year seven times.
Game story from the Kent State website.
Game story from the Florida Gulf Coast website.