Kent State seniors (from left) Zenobia Bess, Jordan Korinek, McKenna Stephens and Naddiyah ring the bell for their Senior Day victory over Akron. (David Dermer photo from women’s basketball Twitter feed)
Kent State had dominated the first three quarters against Akron, and in the last 10 minutes, the Flashes:
- Tried to “gift wrap and give it to them,” in coach Todd Starkey’s words.
- Made the plays at the end of the game they needed to win.
- Won their Senior Day game with strong performances from four-year starters.
The end result was a 60-55 victory over the Zips, an end to KSU’s five-game losing streak and revenge for a 76-60 loss to Akron in January.
“It wasn’t like we had an elaborate game plan to take them out of their stuff,” Starkey said. “We just played better and played harder.”
For most of the game, the Flashes looked as if they had learned all the right lessons from the first Akron game, when they were outscored 14-0 on fast-break points and 13-2 off turnovers. At the end of the third quarter, they had outscored Akron 8-7 off turnovers. Fast-break points were insignificant — 3 to 2 Akron.
And the Flashes led 44-33.
But between five minutes and two minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Akron stole the ball five times and with 2:10 to go, the score was 55-53 Kent State.
Then Alexa Golden made three free throws and Jordan Korinek had a block, a key rebound and two foul shots. Akron didn’t get another point until Fredniqua Walker made an deliberately uncontested layup with four seconds to play.
Korinek and fellow forward McKenna Stephens, who have played together for four seasons, both had double-doubles on their Senior Day. Korinek had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Stephens 14 points and 11 rebounds. Between them, they made 12 of 22 shots.
“Any win over Akron is special,” Korinek said. “Getting the win to end the losing streak was really big. And for our last one, it was really important to us, especially beating Akron on our home court.”
Korinek, the second-leading scorer in the MAC, had just four points at halftime. As most opponents do, Akron was crowding her inside and trying to keep her from the ball.
“I asked her at halftime if she’s rather have 30 points or beat Akron on Senior Day,” Starkey said. “She said, ‘Beat Akron.'”
Golden didn’t start for the first time this season but played a key role. She had 14 points, including seven of eight foul shots, five rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal in 26 minutes. That’s on top of her first career double-double at Ohio Wednesday.
She’s done it on very sore legs.
“She’s limping around most of the time,” Starkey said. “We’re holding her from practice. She’s in a boot. She’s got a lot of pain in her legs with shin splints.
“She doesn’t even flinch. I ask her, ‘You OK?’ She says, ‘Yes, I’m fine.’ She does not want to come out, and we have to protect her from herself sometimes. Her effort is always great.”
- The win moves Kent State’s record to 5-11 in the MAC and 12-16 overall. But the Flashes remain in 10th place in the MAC, and the math to move up to eighth and the final home seed for the MAC tournament is very difficult. The Flashes are a game behind Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois, who are tied for eighth. For KSU to get the eighth seed, it would have to win its last two games and NIU lose its last two. (If they tie, NIU gets the higher seed because it beat the Flashes twice.) The Huskies have tough games against Toledo and Western Michigan, but KSU has an ever tougher one Wednesday against 23-4 Buffalo.
- Akron is 2-14 and 8-19 and tied with Bowling Green for last in the conference.
- It was Stephens’ second Senior Day, perhaps a first in school history. She was honored last year before she graduated in May. Over the summer, Stephens decided to come back for a redshirt season she had earned because she sat out a year after transferring from Michigan State. She’s a graduate student in criminal justice after getting a bachelor’s degree in public health. Is she glad she came back despite a season that hasn’t had nearly as many wins as last year? “Absolutely,” Stephens said. “I would have regretted it for the rest of my life if I hadn’t.”
- Both Korinek and Stephens had scholarship offers from Akron and Kent State. “It’s always nice to beat Akron,” Stephens has said. Her mother played for the Zips in the 1990s.
- Starkey started all four of his seniors. Point guard Naddiyah Cross had three points, three rebounds and four assists. She ranks 10th in career assists in KSU history. It was the first start for Zenobia Bess in her two years at Kent State. (She transferred from Illinois State.) Bess had four rebounds, two steals and an assist in a career-high 18 minutes. On Wednesday, she had a career-high six points and seven rebounds at Ohio.
- Junior Tyra James got her first start of the season. She had two points, three rebounds, two assists and a block in 21 minutes. On Wednesday, she had a season-high 15 points and a career-high three blocked shots.
- Kent State outrebounded Akron 44-34, the 13th time this season the Flashes have ourebounded their opponents by at least 10. KSU made 33 percent of its shots (20 of 60 but just two of 10 in the fourth quarter). Akron was 20 of 63 for 32 percent. KSU made 15 of 16 free throws, Akron 11 of 15.
- Forward Haliegh Reinoehl led Akron with nine points. Guards Shaunay Edmonds and Destiny Perkins, who combined for 34 points against Kent in the game at Akron, had a total of eight on one of 16 shooting.
- Attendance wasn’t announced but looked to be about 800. That would be the biggest crowd of the season.
Other MAC scores
- Central Michigan (15-1, 23-4) 78, Western Michigan (7-9, 14-14) 62 at Western.
- Buffalo (14-2, 23-4) 70, Ohio (9-7, 15-12) 53 at Buffalo.
- Ball State (12-4, 23-4) 78, Toledo (8-8, 17-11) 73 at Ball State.
- Miami (10-6, 18-9) 92, Bowling Green (2-14, 10-17) 64 at Miami.
- Northern Illinois (6-10, 14-13) 84, Eastern Michigan (6-10, 10-17) 75 at Eastern.