Senior Jordan Korinek and coach Todd Starkey after she came out for the final time in a four-year career where she scored 1,786 points. (Photo by Henry Palattella the Kent Stater student newspaper and its sister website, KentWired.com.)
After 22 minutes, Kent State was at its high-water mark in its three games against MAC East champion Buffalo.
The Flashes had scored the first points of the second half and pulled within 32-31 of the Bulls, a team that had beaten KSU by an average of 34 points in two earlier meetings.
And the Buffalo’s defense took over.
Over the next eight minutes, the Bulls stole the ball 10 times and outscored KSU 24-2, then went on to a 72-50 victory in the MAC tournament semifinals.
Buffalo, the tournament’s second seed now with a 26-4 record, advanced to Friday’s semifinals to play sixth-seed Western Michigan, which upset No. 3 Ball State, 65-54.
The loss ends Kent State’s season with a 13-19 record.
“Defensively, they’re like sharks on blood,” coach Todd Starkey said in his postgame press conference. “They kind of sense that they have you and then they just swarm you. They’re phenomenal at getting deflections to steals to points. They’re probably the best team in the MAC at turning your mistakes into immediate points.”
Buffalo scored a phenomenal (one of Starkey’s favorite words) 41 points off of 26 Kent State turnovers. The Bulls had 20 steals and committed just 13 turnovers themselves. Five of those came when reserves were playing in the fourth quarter.
In Buffalo’s earlier 80-42 and 81-51 victories over Kent State, the Bulls scored a total of 38 points off turnovers.
“There are certain teams that are just matchup nightmares for you, and Buffalo certainly was that for us this year,” Starkey said. “The way Buffalo really takes you out of your stuff. Our personnel makes it difficult.
“We played them closer than we did the first two games, but at the same time they’re just a better basketball team than we are.”
Jordan Korinek and McKenna Stephens, playing their last game in Kent State uniforms, each had 16 points. Stephens added 10 rebounds for a double-double. Korinek ends her four-year career with 1,786 points, fifth in school history.
Kent State started the game playing as well as it did when it upset Toledo 80-76 in overtime Monday. The Flashes led 16-14 after a quarter, shooting 50 percent from the field. Stephens had seven points and six rebounds.
But the Flashes made just 29 percent of their shots for the rest of the game against the Bulls, who lead the conference in field-goal defense.
“I thought we played our hearts out in the first half, but we couldn’t make some shots,” Starkey said.
Kent State outrebounded Buffalo, the MAC’s leading team, 11 to 4 in the quarter and 19-13 in the first half. For the game, Buffalo outrebounded the Flashes, 41-36.
In the first half, Stephens said, “We just weren’t playing scared. We were playing fast and aggressive, just like they were. We were scoring off of it, getting a offensive rebounds and putbacks.”
As Kent State pulled its four seniors — Korinek, Stephens, Naddiyah Cross and ZenobiaBess — in the last minute, Starkey gave each a long hug as they reached the bench.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Starkey, who guided the team to a MAC East title in his first season last year. “When I got here, I just asked them to trust me, that we would try to get things turned around.
“I asked them to change their mindset, to change to the expectation to winning rather than hoping to be in the game. They embraced that.”
Megan Carter is OK
Starkey said guard Megan Carter should be all right after a frightening moment in the third quarter. Carter fell to the floor after a collision guarding a Buffalo player’s drive in the third quarter. She lay on her back for more than 10 minutes and was taken from the court on a gurney as a precaution for a possible head or spinal injury.
Carter’s injury came in the middle of Buffalos big third-quarter run. Both teams had to regroup while medical personnel treated her, with Starkey standing next to them.
“I think it’s kind of hard to be focused on what’s going on on the court and the game plan with tears in your eyes,” Starkey said. “So we’re looking at some of the players, saying, ‘Are you going to be okay? Are you going to make it?'”
Korinek and Stephens said that as seniors, they tried to steady their teammates.
“We have to try and keep the rest of the team focused and try to come out strong after a five-minute break of worrying about our teammate,” Stephens said. “We just tried to gather everybody together and push through it without Megan.”
On the Buffalo side, junior guard Cierra Dillard said, “You say a quick prayer and got back into the game.”
From Buffalo’s Stephanie Reid: “We obviously feel really bad for her, but it’s something that happens in the game. We had to keep the momentum that we had, and I think we did a good job of coming back on the court and not letting it affect us. We pray for her recovery.”
Buffalo came out of the play stoppage for Carter’s injury with a press and scored the next 13 points.