A MAC team is not going to play better defense against a Top 25 opponent than Kent State did against Michigan Sunday.
The Flashes held Michigan to five points in the first quarter, 19 points in the first half and 54 for the game. They held Katelynn Flaherty, Michigan’s all-time leading scorer and an All-American candidate, to four points, second lowest of her career.
It wasn’t enough. Kent State lost, 54-41, as Michigan forced 21 turnovers and held the Flashes to 33 percent shooting.
Kent State is now 6-5 on the season. The Flashes have lost to two teams in the Top 25 and three teams in the Mid-Major Top 25.
Michigan, ranked No. 24 in last week’s AP poll and No. 21 in the Coaches Poll, is 8-2. Its only losses have been to No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Notre Dame.
“The effort was fantastic,” coach Todd Starkey said. “They did a good job of paying attention to details, of making them take a lot of tough shots, especially early on.”
The Flashes shut down Flaherty, who has scored 2,200 points in her career, with a box-and-one defense that put point guard Naddiyah Cross in her pocket for much of the game. Flaherty was 2 for 12 from the field and 0 for 7 on three-point shooting.
“It’s something you can try to use to try to equalize things against a more talented team with a great player,” Starkey said. “Naddiyah had 38 minutes of phenomenal defense.”
What was it that like for Cross?
“It’s mind over matter,” she said. “You tell yourself you’re not tired and do your job.”
The Flashes jumped to a 15-5 first-quarter lead (“a little bit of fool’s gold that wasn’t going to last”), Starkey said.
But for the next two quarters, Kent State made just 4 of 20 field goals.
“The story of the game for us is that we had too many turnovers and missed too many open looks,” Starkey said. “If they go down, it’s potentially a different story.”
Michigan is a long, quick team that had eight steals –– what coaches call “moving ball turnovers” that often turn into points. The Wolverines had 16 points off 21 Kent State turnovers. The Flashes scored seven off 13 Michigan turnovers.
KSU also struggled to run its offense — especially to Jordan Korinek in the post — a number of times. The Flashes also played at a slower speed to keep the score down. “You try to play a fast-paced game against a team like Michigan, you’re asking for trouble,” Starkey said.
Starkey gave 6-4 junior Merissa Barber-Smith her first college start to deal with Michigan’s front line, which includes 6-5 all-Big Ten center Hallie Thome and forward who are 6-2 and 6-1. Barber-Smith had four points, five rebounds and blocked a shot in a career-high 29 minutes. She took Ali Poole’s spot on the starting line-up, though Poole played 27 minutes.
Kent State was playing its third game in six days — overtime Tuesday at Eastern Kentucky, home Thursday against 6-2 Wright State and at Michigan. “Between that and as hard as they played defensively, they were struggling to get their legs into shots at the end,” Starkey said.
- Alexa Golden led Kent State with 15 points and made three of six three-point shots. She also had five rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot.
- Jordan Korinek had 10 points on four of 12 shooting. She had been averaging more than 50 percent from the floor. Korinek led KSU with eight rebounds.
- KSU outrebounded Michigan 32-28. It was the eighth time in 11 games the Flashes have outrebounded their opponents.
- Kent State shot only eight free throws, making five. Michigan was 11 fo 14. The Flashes’ struggle if they don’t shoot more foul shots than their oppponents.
- Michigan was led by Thome and guard Halley Brown, who each had 11 points.
- After shooting 18 percent in the first quarter and 31 percent in the first half, the Wolverines made 48 percent of their shots in the second half (40 percent for the game). They were five of 19 on three-pointers. Kent State was 15 of 45 from the field and 6 of 17 on three-point shots.
- It was the second time in a year that Kent State has given Michigan a tough game on its home court. The Flashes lost to the Wolverines 67-60 in the first round of the WNIT in March. Michigan, which has won 32 of its last 34 at home, went on to win the tournament.
Kent State is off for nine days for final exams and will play at 6-3 Robert Morris at 10 a.m. Dec. 19. The Flashes open conference play at Eastern Michigan Dec. 30.