KSU players (from left) McKenna Stephens (10), Alexa Golden (24), Jordan Korinek (35), Naddiyah Cross (1) and Monique Smith (25) celebrate as the clock hits zero in their overtime victory at Toledo. (Photo by Henry Palattella, KentWired)
In the end, Kent State’s seniors didn’t want to go out on a dud.
Two days after their worst game of the season, the 10th-seeded Flashes came from 17 points behind to beat No. 7 Toledo in overtime, 80-76, and advance to the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament.
KSU will play 25-4 Buffalo, the second seed and MAC East champion, at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (Exact time depends on when earlier games end.) Buffalo, which had a first-round bye, beat the Flashes twice during the regular season.
KSU senior forward Jordan Korinek overcame a miserable first half (one of five shooting and one rebound) to score 16 points in the fourth quarter. Her three-point basket with 47 seconds to go tied the game at 70.
“I couldn’t buy a basket,” said Korinek, the MAC’s second-leading scorer and the fifth-highest scorer in KSU history. “My teammates kept telling me, ‘Keep shooting.’
“In the back of my head, I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t go out like this. Don’t let your team go out like this.’ I kept pushing, and eventually the ball went in.”
Korinek finished with 21 points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists.
48 hours earlier, it had looked as if the Flashes may have given up on the season. They scored a season low in a 58-35 loss at Miami. Coach Todd Starkey was so unhappy with his team’s effort that he pulled all five starters after three-and-a-half minutes. (They did return.)
“In my 21 years of coach, this may be one of the most unexpected wins based on where we were just a few days ago,” Starkey said in his postgame interview on Golden Flash Radio. “I thought they were done after the Miami game. It just looked like they didn’t have anything left.”
But Monday, he said, “My gosh, they played so hard. They executed, they listened. . . my gosh, they finally listened and executed the stuff that we were trying to run. Defensively they talked. They made the hustle plays.”
(All that is how Starkey consistently described the team’s struggles in its 5-13 conference season, which was eight wins worse than last year.)
“I’m so happy for our seniors,” Starkey said, “that we’re able to give them this last hurrah in Cleveland.”
Besides Korinek, the game’s heroes were two guards who had struggled mightily as Kent State lost seven of its last eight games.
Sophomore Megan Carter had 24 points and six rebounds. (“A fantastic game,” Starkey said.) Carter had made just 25 of 106 shots (23 percent) since Kent State beat Toledo in January. Wednesday Carter made eight of 17 shots.
Senior Naddiyah Cross had 20 points (three three-pointers), four rebounds, four assists and only one turnover while playing 44 of 45 minutes. She had been averaging 5.2 points a game and had only scored more than four points once since mid-January. Her total was four points off her career high.
“I was thinking, ‘I don’t want my career to end without me working hard,'” Cross said. “Coach keeps telling us, ‘Give it all you can.’ We just had one of our worst games. Our coaches have coached us much better than we’ve played, and we just wanted to show respect for everything that’s been given to us.”
Cross and Starkey said a key to the game was to not make it complicated.
“I said the whole game, ‘You don’t have to do spectacular things. You just have to do the simple things well over and over again.‘” Starkey said.
“Sometimes you try to make the fancy passes,” Cross said. “But against this team that’s so aggressive, we have to keep it simple.”
Every play is important in an overtime game, but here are three critical ones:
- At the end of the third quarter, Carter grabbed a rebound with five seconds left, drove most of the court and hit a three-point shot at the buzzer. “If she doesn’t make that, we go in down 13 and probably feeling sorry for ourselves, thinking, ‘Here we go again.'”
- When Korinek hit her three-point basket to tie the game, it was just her 21st three-pointer of the year. She’s made 203 total baskets. “I was kind of shocked that I shot it,” Korinek said. “But it felt really good when it left my hand.”
- After Toledo had scored to take a 72-70 lead with 4.8 seconds to go in regulation, Kent State called time and advanced the ball to the front court. As Cross in-bounded the ball, Carter circled around and cut down the opposite side for the foul lane. Cross loped a pass to her, Carter was fouled on the layup and made both shots to send the game to overtime.
So the Flashes avenged their loss to Toledo in the quarterfinals of last year’s MAC Tournament, the only game anyone on the KSU team has even played in Quicken Loans Arena. KSU was the third seed last year and had a bye into the quarterfinals.
“This honestly feels better,” Korinek said, “having to work for it and getting the win as the underdog.”
- Kent State’s record is now 13-18. Toledo ends the season at 17-14. It was the second time this season the Flashes had won at Toledo, the first a 62-55 game on Jan. 24. The last time before that Kent had won in Toledo was in 2007.
- The win ended an eight-game losing streak in the MAC tournament for the Flashes.
- Alexa Golden led Kent State with seven rebounds and had three blocked shots. She played 39 minutes on sore legs. (“Lex has played hurt all season,” Starkey said.)
- Statistics were as even as you’d expect in an overtime game. Both teams had 33 rebounds and 34 points in the paint. Kent State made 48 percent of its shots, Toledo 46 percent. KSU scored 15 points off 14 Toledo turnovers. Toledo scored 13 off of 13 Kent turnovers.
- Center Kaayla McIntyre led Toledo with 18 points. Mariella Santucci and Mikaela Boyd had 14 and Jay-Ann Bravo-Harriott had 11. Bravo-Harriott, a four-year starter and one-time freshman of the year in the MAC, fouled out with 3:19 to go in the fourth quarter. McIntyre played the last seven minutes of the game with four fouls.
- Toledo had an astounding 23 assists on 28 baskets, led by Bravo-Harriott’s seven. Kent State had 12 assists on 28 baskets.
In the other first-round games:
- No. 9 seed Eastern Michigan (11-19, 6-12) beat No. 8 Northern Illinois (15-15, 7-11), 84-77 at Northern. Eastern Michigan will play No. 1 seed Central Michigan (25-4, 17-1) at noon Wednesday.
- No. 5 Ohio (16-14, 9-9) beat No. 12 Akron (9-21, 3-15), 85-73 at Ohio. The Bobcats will play No. 4 Miami (20-9, 12-6) at about 2:30.
- No. 6 Western Michigan (17-14, 9-9) beat No. 11 Bowling Green (11-19, 3-15), 85-71 at Western. WMU will play No. 3 Ball State (24-5, 13-5) at about 7:30 Wednesday.
MAC Tournament website, including bracket, recaps and box scores of all games, and link to ticket information.