Kent State isn’t going to play much better defense this season than it did in the fourth quarter against Memphis Saturday.
Tied 50-50 going into the last 10 minutes, the Flashes held Memphis to two of 15 shooting and five points. They forced six turnovers and beat the Tigers 70-55 in their last game of the Play4Kay Showcase in Las Vegas.
The win leaves Kent State at 4-3 going into its first home game of the season Thursday night against Detroit Mercy. The Flashes were 1-2 in Las Vegas, losing to No. 14 Stanford and Gonzaga, which was ranked seventh in this week’s Mid-Major Top 25.
The fourth-quarter defense was sparked by a tall lineup that had 6-2 senior Jordan Korinek and 6-4 junior Marissa Barber-Smith playing extended minutes together for the first time this season.
“We went with more size and did a great job of talking on defense,” Starkey said. “Merissa did a great job of really contesting a lot of shots and keeping them off the offensive glass.”
Barber-Smith had five points and four rebounds in 10 minutes.
The Flashes got unexpected offense and rebounding from their shortest player, 5-foot-5 point guard Naddiyah Cross, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds for her first double-double in college. She had been averaging 4.2 points and 2.2 rebounds. She also had five assists against one turnover, had two steals and played every second of the game.
“I didn’t realize I played 40 minutes until they told me,” Cross said. “I just work on playing until I get pulled out and don’t pay attention to how much I’m playing.”
“A big point the coaches make is that when some people aren’t playing well, others have to step up,” Cross said. “My job was just to go in get a lot of defensive rebounds when our bigs were getting boxed out.”
In the three games in Las Vegas, Cross had 17 assists and played 108 of a possible 120 minutes.
Korinek led the Flashes with 25 points, making 9 of 13 field goals and six of seven free throws. She had one three-point basket. For the tournament, she made seven of 12 three-pointers and now has 10 in 16 attempts this season (62.5 percent). That’s as many three-pointers as she made all last season, when she hit 29 percent. She is averaging 21.3 points a game, which should put her in the top three in the MAC. (Conference stats aren’t updated after every game.)
Saturday’s game plan, Starkey said, was “to be relentless from start to finish.”
“Everybody is tired in the third day,” he said. “We talked about how the team that’s mentally and physical toughest was going to win.”
Going into the weekend, Starkey said, the Flashes knew they were gong to face top competition.
“The goal was to make sure we found a way to get at least one win,” he said. “Now we get to go home and finally play in front of our own fans.”
Game story from the Kent State website.
Game story from the Memphis website.
Freshman guard Kasey Toles played 20 minutes — by far her career high. She scored four points on her first college three-point basket and a free throw, and had four rebounds. “She played much more composed and much more controlled,” Starkey said. Toles’ extended minutes partially due to some first-half four trouble to Ali Poole and Alexa Golden and partially due to the absence of junior Tyra James, who missed the last two games of the tournament with a minor injury.
Kent State made 44 percent of its field goal attempts — .6 of a percentage point off its season high against Southeastern Louisiana, and a season-best 36.8 percent of its three–point shots (seven of 19). Memphis was 22 of 59 for 37 percent and just 29 percent in the second half.
The Flashes outrebounded Memphis 37-32, outscored the Tigers off turnovers 17-10 and made 19 free throws to Memphis’s five. For the season, the Flashes have outscored their opponents at the foul line, 117-67. They were third in the country in made and attempted free throws going into Saturday’s game.
The Flashes led by five points after the first quarter but saw Memphis take a four-point halftime lead and led by 11 with 5:51 to go in the third quarter. The Flashes tied the score at 43-43 on a 13-2 run keyed by three-pointers by Poole, Korinek and McKenna Stephens.
Golden had nine points with two three-pointers, six rebounds (four offensive) and three steals. Poole had eight points with two three-point baskets and three assists.
Memphis coach Melissa McFerrin, as quoted in the Memphis team website:
“In the fourth quarter, there were several defensive possessions that we did a really nice job, but then they would get an offensive rebound. We missed a bunch of shots in the fourth, and at the end of the day, the fourth quarter was the difference. I thought our kids fought and played hard.”