Kent State returns to the M.A.C. Center for only its third game this season when it takes on Western Michigan at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
The game is the first game of a doubleheader with the KSU men, who will play Central Michigan about a half hour after the women finish.
The women split their two non-conference games at home. Before the season coach Todd Starkey agreed the road-heavy schedule wasn’t ideal but that he inherited contracts that forced more away games. The Flashes did go 4-1 in true away games and 2-4 in games at neutral sites.
It’s an important game for the women. Both teams are 8-6 and 1-1 in the MAC. (Six other teams are also 1-1.) The Broncos have an RPI of 82, sixth best in the conference. Kent State’s is at a season-high 130, ninth in the MAC, according to WarrenNolan.com.
If Kent State is going to contend for the MAC East title again, it’s going to have to win some games against good West Division teams. WMU is one of its best chances. The teams play only at Kent this season, and the Flashes beat Western in Kalamazoo last season in one of the key games in its championship season.
Junior Merissa Barber-Smith, the tallest player on the Kent State roster at 6-4, played a critical role in that game. She came off the bench and in the second half had 10 rebounds, helping neutralize Western’s Breanna Mobley, an all-MAC forward who is one of the top rebounders in the league. Mobley had one rebound in the half. At the end of the season, Starkey credited Barber-Smith with making the difference in four KSU victories, the difference between KSU’s third seed n the MAC tournament and a seventh or eighth seed.
Barber-Smith has been the first post player off the bench for the Flashes but averages only 11.7 minutes a game. She played a total of only 14 minutes in KSU’s first two MAC games. Barber-Smith has the disadvantage of playing behind two four-year players — senior all-MAC forward Jordan Korinek and graduate student McKenna Stephens, who has started 72 games in her career.
Barber-Smith got the first start of her career against Michigan in December and played 29 minutes, scoring six points and grabbing five rebounds against a front line that included a 6-5 all-Big Ten center. I’d expect her to see considerable action against Western.
Besides Mobley, who is 6-1 and averages 14.6 points and 8.6 rebounds a game, Western starts 6-2 center Marley Hill, who averages 10.1 points and 5.7 rebounds. Off the bench, the Broncos have 6-4 sophomore Emma VanZanten and 6-foot freshman Leighah-Amori Wool, a two-time all-state player from Illinois.
They all play. Twelve different Western Michigan players average more than 10 minutes a game.
Kent State, on the other hand, has had only a seven-player rotation in its first two MAC games. Five KSU players average more than 30 minutes a game. A sixth, redshirt sophomore Megan Carter, has averaged 29 minutes in the two games she’s played since becoming eligible second semester.
Carter scored 16 points in her first game back and 17 against Northern Illinois Wednesday. She’s taken the role that MAC player of the year Larissa Lurken had last year as KSU’s leading perimeter scorer and the player with the ball in her hands at the end of the shot clock. She has averaged 14 shots in her two games, second only to Korinek. She also has had a team-leading 11 turnovers in those two games.
Turnovers have been Kent State’s biggest weakness all season. The Flashes had 21 against Eastern Michigan in their MAC opener and 17 against Northern Illinois. They had seven turnovers in the last eight minutes, when they lost a 69-61 lead Wednesday night. Their minus-3.93 turnover margin in worst in the MAC.
Western Michigan has a plus-1.21 turnover margin, seventh in the league.
To follow the game
Action starts at 4:30 p.m. at the MACC. One ticket gets you into both the women’s and men’s games.
Video is on ESPN3. You can follow it online if your subscribe to ESPN on cable or on satellite.
Audio starts at about 4:15 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio.
Live statistics will be available through the Kent State website
MAC statistics, including standings. Top games are Buffalo (12-2, 2-0 in the MAC) at Northern Illinois (9-4, 1-1) and Central Michigan (10-3, 2-0) at Miami ((9-4, 1-1).