Kent State took 23 three-point shots against Northern Illinois Saturday.
The Flashes made four.
Such statistics do not often make for a winning game, and the Flashes lost to Northern Illinois 72-62 at the M.A.C. Center.
The loss drops Kent State to 4-7 in the conference and 11-12 over all. Four of KSU’s losses have to teams with a worse MAC records than the Flashes. The Flashes are ninth in the league, a game and a half behind Eastern Michigan and two games behind Miami, Toledo and Western Michigan. That’s significant because a team has to finish at least eighth to get a home-court game in the first round of the MAC Tournament, and the home court is usually a significant advantage.
Saturday Northern Illinois jumped to a 19-15 first quarter lead. Kent State struggled on offense most of the afternoon and NIU successfully ran on KSU after missed baskets, outscoring the Flashes 19-4 on fast-break points.
“We talked about their transition for two-and-a-half days,” coach Todd Starkey said. “It was the focus of what we did in practice. I don’t know the answer (of why NIU was able to score so easily).”
On offense, Kent State struggled with NIU’s zone defense and especially struggled when Jordan Korinek, KSU’s leading scorer, spent extended minutes on the bench with foul trouble.
“They know they can’t guard us man-to-man because of Jordan,” Starkey said. “So they sagged on us, and we settled for contested threes and didn’t make them.”
Taking shots like that, Starkey said, “is just hoping.”
“Then we didn’t get offensive rebounds on those misses, and we didn’t defend in transition.”
Kent State tied the game 39-39 in the middle of the third quarter. But Alexa Golden was called for a foul on defending a layup — one of those “block/charge” calls that are among the most difficult decisions for officials. NIU’s Gabby Nikitinaite made both free throws, and the Huskies scored the next 10 points.
“Definitely a turning point,” said Starkey, who doesn’t complain about officiating to the press but complained vociferously to the referees at the time.
Kent State rallied again to pull within four points halfway through the fourth quarter, but NIU again pulled away.
Starkey said things went better for the offense when the Flashes attacked.
“It’s no secret the game usually goes to the aggressor,” he said. “Instead of settling for threes, we started getting downhill, driving the basketball and getting open looks. It’s what we ask them to do at halftime — break down the defense and start to get open.”
Sophomore guard Megan Carter led the Flashes in scoring with 19 points.
“With Jordan on the bench, you have to step up,” she said. “Coach was in my ear the whole game, ‘Be aggressive, be aggressive, be aggressive.'”
Carter started her second straight game (and second of her career) as did freshman guard Erin Thames.
Thames had 13 points — more than she had scored in her previous 10 games combined. She made three three-point baskets.
“The game is starting to come more natural for me,” she said. “I’ve been getting up more shots in my off-time, outside of practice, and it’s just starting to come to me now.”
Starting, she said, is “great.”
- Korinek finished with 14 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes. She and NIU’s Courtney Woods have been contending for top scorer in the MAC. Woods beat her Saturday with 21 points, nine in the first quarter.
- KSU made 41 percent of its shots, slightly better than its season average. Northern made 47 percent, about three points above its average.
- NIU had lost seven games in a row, five of them by fewer than five points. “They’re a good offensive team,” Starkey said. “They were going to beat someone.”
- The Flashes outrebounded Northern 34-30, the 16th time in 22 games they’ve done that this season. But NIU outrebounded KSU 19-15 in the first half when the Huskies built their lead.
- Both teams made 10 free throws, and Kent State had 18 fouls to NIIU’s 13. When KSU doesn’t outscore teams from the foul line, the Flashes struggle. Korinek, who was second in the country in made free throws going into game, made two of two Saturday.
- The win gives NIU a sweep of Kent State for the second year in a row. The Huskies beat KSU 81-79 in Dekalb on Jan. 3.
- Attendance was 546, highest of the season. It was a “She Will” game, one of a series of women’s games in all sports this season designed to promote awareness of gender equity in sports.
Kent State travels to Buffalo, the leaders in the MAC East, on Wednesday. The Bulls have the second-best conference record (to Central Michigan) at 8-2 and are 17-4 overall. They beat Toledo, 84-73, at Toledo on Saturday.
The view from Northern Illinois
Coach Lisa Carlsen, quoted on the NIU team website:
“Our energy was noticeable, and I never felt we had any panic. There were times the last couple of games you doubt what you’re doing or you worry about making a mistake, and I never saw that from us today.”
On NIU’s lineup, where Nikinaite and Riley Blackwell started for the first time:
“Whether they were starters that weren’t starting or whether they were starters inserted, you didn’t see any drop in intensity. That’s a credit to them, understanding they have to come together and continue to stay at it.”
Other MAC scores
- Ohio (6-4, 12-9) 80, Ball State (7-4, 18-4) 76 at Ohio.
- Miami (6-5, 14-8) 66, Bowling Green (2-9, 10-12) 62 at Bowling Green.
- Western Michigan (6-5, 13-10) 76, Akron (1-10, 7-15) 60 at Western.
- Buffalo (8-2, 17-4) 84, Toledo (6-5, 15-8) 73 at Toledo.
- Central Michigan (10-0, 18-3) 95, Eastern Michigan (5-5, 9-12) 72 at Eastern.