Impressions from the opening weekend: There’s much hope for the season

Warren

In the stands for KSU’s game at North Carolina was university President Beverly Warren, who has been a strong support of women’s sports. She also got her undergraduate degree for North Carolina in the 1970s. (Photo from KSU Twitter feed.)

It sounds a little strange, but Kent State is off to a good 0-2 start.

In their opening weekend in North Carolina, the Flashes lost to North Carolina 73-60 and North Carolina State 78-61. Some impressions:

1. This could be very solid team. Against two good ACC teams, Kent State showed they very much belonged on the same court. The Flashes outplayed North Carolina from about six minutes into the game until the last five minutes. North Carolina State was clearly the better of the two opponents, and KSU outscored the Wolfpack 19-18 in the third quarter.

The other MAC schools to play Power Five teams were blown out. Ball State lost to Purdue 80-38 and Bowling Green to Michigan State 99-69.

2. When coach Todd Starkey said in the preseason that Megan Carter had the potential to be an all-MAC player, I didn’t know what to think. Carter was wildly inconsistent in averaging 10.2 points a game last season.

She played like an all star over the weekend. She scored 17 points against North Carolina, drawing praise of Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell (“We couldn’t stay in front of her.”) She led all scorers with 22 points at N.C. State. Her shooting waasn’t great (13 of 37), but she made 11 of 15 free throws, had six assists, 11 rebounds and three steals.

3. This freshman class is indeed good. After Carter, the next three Kent State  scorers were freshmen Asiah Dingle (22 points), Lindsey Thall (17) and Hannah Young (16).

4. Dingle, the former Boston Globe high school player of the year, struggled with fouls — some on questionable calls —  but showed impressive skills. She is fearless — and startlingly quick — in driving to the basket, no matter how good or tall the defense. From the N.C. State broadcasters: “An exciting player…quick with the ball…doesn’t play at all like a freshman.”

5. The Kent State offense didn’t come close to the 70 points Starkey wants to average this season, but the defenses the Flashes faced were better than they’ll see in the MAC (except, perhaps, for Buffalo).

The offense did look the way Starkey had described it: Lots of drives and lots of three-pointers. The drives (and Carter’s pull-up jumpers) were often productive, the three-pointers not so much. The Flashes were 13 for 48 (27.1 percent) on the weekend. In his postgame interviews, Starkey said KSU missed open threes; I thought that at times, especially against N.C. State, the Flashes just seemed to be throwing the ball up when their offense didn’t work.

Post scoring? Not much. Thall had jump two two-point baskets. Merissa Barber-Smith, the 6-4 senior who probably will start against taller lineups, had just one basket, though she did have 13 rebounds in 19 minutes on the court. Overall, KSU’s rebounding wasn’t bad against taller, more athletic players. The Flashes were outrebounded 82-73 on the weekend and had more offensive rebounds than North Carolina State (12-9).

6. The defense should be all right. Starkey had said the freshmen were having trouble adjusting to the college game, but the Flashes held Carolina to only 31 percent shooting. North Carolina State made 57 percent of its shots, but the Wolfpack won’t do that all season. Neither will Carolina shoot so badly. Average the two, and it was 44 percent shooting against the Flashes for the weekend — not too bad versus the ACC.

7. Starkey pronounced himself pleased with his team and the weekend.

“I’m definitely more optimistic and not downhearted at all,” he said after Sunday’s game. “I just have to remind myself to be patient and, and where this is headed.

“I love coaching this group. We’re real young, and we’re going to learn a lot. Our learning curve hopefully is going to be a pretty steep slope.”

The coaches are learning, too, Starkey said, “learning these new players and what they can do, what will work in certain situations and how they react in game and pressure situations.”

The view from North Carolina State

Coach Wes Moore, as quoted in the Technician, the N.C. State online student paper, after N.C. State’s victory over KSU:

“I did think the first half we played better (than in its opener against Belmont). We played with a little more energy, a little more urgency. Today I thought the second half we were a little sluggish. It was too sloppy. It wasn’t fun to watch.”

“We’d like to draw more people, so we need to play well, execute, and make it where it’s something they want to come back and see again. I don’t know that we accomplished that today.”

(This from a coach whose team just cruised to a 17-point victory.)

Notes

  • North Carolina State has started the season 2-0 for the ninth straight year. The Wolfpack beat Belmont, the sixth-ranked team in the preseason Mid-Major Poll, 77-62 Wednesday. North Carolina is also 2-0, having beaten Elon, another solid mid-major, 99-69 Tuesday.
  • Northwestern, a team KSU played evenly in a scrimmage 17 days ago, also is 2-0, having beaten mid-major power Green Bay on the road 57-55  and then routing No. 21 Duke 84-58 at home Sunday.
  • In Raleigh, the Flashes visited the headquarters of Kay Yow Cancer Fund, who has raised millions for women’s cancers in college “Play4Kay” games. Kay Yow is a former North Carolina State coach who fought cancer for 22 years before she died in 2009.
  • Kent State playing time on the North Carolina trip was Carter (74 of 80 minutes), Thall (60 minutes), senior Alexa Golden (58), Dingle (51), junior Ali Poole (47), Young (40), senior Barber-Smith (37), freshman Mariah Modkins (13), community college transfer Sydney Brinlee (11) and sophomore Monique Smith (7). Sophomore Margaux Eibel and community college transfer Jess Wallis played the last minute of the North Carolina State game.
  • Modkins is listed very generously at 5-foot-1. In the North CArolina State game, she  guarded Kiara Leslie, who is a foot taller.

MAC update

MAC teams have gone 11-8 through Tuesday night, with no really special victory. Interesting games:

  • Bowling Green 99, Marshall 76 at BG. In coach Robyn Fralick’s second game, Falcons (1-1) scored their most points since 2004. Freshman guard Morgan McMillen scored 32 points and made eight three-point baskets. Marshall is 0-2.
  • South Dakota State 80, Central Michigan’s 71. South Dakota State (2-1) was ranked No. 2 in the preseason Mid-Major Poll. Central (1-1) was ranked No. 3. Senior Presley Hudson became CMU’s career leader in assists with 465 and three-point baskets with 304.
  • Miami 60, Eastern Kentucky 44. Miami is the only 2-0 team in the MAC. Eastern Kentucky is 0-2.
  • Buffalo 69, Maryland Eastern Shore 63. Buffalo (1-0) was ranked No. 4 in the mid-major poll. Eastern Shore is 0-3.
  • Northern Illinois 89, Yale 80. Senior Courtney Woods scored 38 for NIU (1-1). Yale (1-1) was picked fourth in the Ivy League.
  • Akron 49, North Carolina A&T 36. Akron (1-0) held A&T (0-2), the defending MEAC champions, to 12 points in second half.

MAC results so far (with links to league statistics)

MAC standings

 

Flashes host Northern Kentucky at 5 p.m. Saturday and Oakland at 1:30 p.m. Sunday in Kent State Classic.

 

Kent State statistics (with links to schedule and roster)

 

 

 

 

 

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