Kent State has a 6-5 record and some good moments against top-rung teams, but the Flashes need a win against a a good team this week to go into the conference season.
KSU travels to suburban Pittsburgh Tuesday to Robert Morris in a 10 a.m. game. It’s the Flashes’ last game before the MAC season starts at Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Dec. 30.
The early time is because the game is part of Robert Morris’s Career and Education Day. Its website doesn’t define that, but it’s usually the kind of thing when high school (sometimes even elementary) students are invited to campus. Such games tend to get very noisy in favor of the home team.
Robert Morris is the kind of team the Flashes haven’t beaten so far this year and the kind of team they’re going to need to beat to have a chance at defending their MAC East title.
The Colonials are 7-3 and have won five in a row. Like Kent State, they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record. The teams they’ve beaten have been better than the ones Kent State has defeated. The teams they’ve lost to aren’t as good as the ones that have beaten the Flashes.
Two of them are the same teams. Robert Morris beat Northern Kentucky 69-60 and Youngstown State 84-52. The Flashes beat NKU 59-54 in their opener and Youngstown 55-44 in their second game. Both games were on the road. Robert Morris’s win against Eastern Kentucky came on the road; it beat YSU in home.
A year ago Robert Morris beat the Flashes 68-65 in overtime at the M.A.C. Center.
All that says the teams are well matched. So does RPI ratings. Kent State is ranked 217th of 349 teams. Robert Morris is 204th. RPI is a system that rates teams based on their record and strength of schedule.
The Colonials’ five-game win streak has come against teams that have won no more than three games. Kent State has lost two in a row, but those were to No. 23 Michigan and to Wright State, which is ranked 15th in the Mid-Major Top 25. KSU played well at times in both of those games, The Flashes led Michigan after a quarter and were tied 19-19 at halftime.
But the Flashes haven’t beaten a team that has won more than three games.
Robert Morris is led by 6-2 sophomore Nneka Ezeigbo, who has come off the bench in every game she’s played and who averages 12.8 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. She scored four points and had 13 rebounds (12 of them defensive) against KSU last season. The Colonels start three seniors and two freshman guards. Seven of the 13 players on their roster are international — from Canada to England to Finland to Japan.
KSU is coming off a nine-day break for final exams. In the Flashes’ game at Michigan Dec. 10, guard Alexa Golden led the Flashes with 13 points. She’s averaging 9.4 points a game this season, double her average last year. Coach Todd Starkey calls her an “opportunistic scorer,” who can be aggressive when other teams concentrate on senior forwards Jordan Korinek and McKenna Stephens.
Golden, a criminal justice major, graduated Saturday after just two-and-a-half years on campus. She was an excellent high school student and came into college with a ton of advanced placement credit. I assume she’s enrolled in graduate school for the second semester. Golden grew up in suburban Pittsburgh, probably no more than a half hour drive from Robert Morris.
Senior point guard Naddiyah Cross, a business major, also graduated Saturday. Cross had perhaps the best week of her college career before exams. She scored a career-high 19 points and hit a three-point shot that sent Kent State’s game at Eastern Kentucky into overtime (KSU won, 65-57). She had eight assists in KSU’s lost to Wright State and seven more at Michigan. Her major contribution against the Wolverines, however, was the defensive work she put in against Michigan all-American candidate Katelynn Flaherty. Cross, often chasing Flaherty in a box-and-one defense, held the Wolverine guard to four points. That’s the second lowest in her career.
The game should be the last for the Flashes without redshirt sophomore guard Megan Carter, who was academically ineligible first semester. KSU finished finals Friday, but grades won’t be official until Wednesday. University rules don’t allow Carter to play until then. Carter was a key contributor to the seven-game win streak that took Kent State to the Eastern Division title last season.
To follow the game
Action starts at 10 a.m. If you plan to go, here are direction, according to the Robert Morris website. The game is at the university’s recreation center because RMU is building a new basketball facility. Here’s info from the university.
Video of the game is through the Robert Morris website.
Audio starts at about 9:45 a.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio.
Live statistics will be available through the Robert Morris website.
Preview from the Kent State website, including links to roster, schedule/results, record book and more.