In her first college start, freshman Mariah Modkins scored 14 points, had three assists and two steals. (Photo from KSU website by Austin Mariasy)
Kent State played its best game of the season — perhaps its best game of the decade — as it routed previously undefeated Youngstown State 62-34 Tuesday at the M.A.C. Center.
It was Kent State’s third win in a row. It came over a team that had beaten Pittsburgh from the ACC, Loyola from the Missouri Valley Conference and Robert Morris, the preseason favorite in the Northeastern Conference, by an average of 10 points.
KSU’s defense smothered a YSU offense that had averaged 74.2 points a game. The Penguins made 17.2 percent of their shots, and that includes three three-point baskets in the last three minutes. YSU went 0 for 17 shooting in the third quarter and scored only on two foul shots.
“I can’t say enough about our defensive effort,” said coach Todd Starkey, who recorded his 200th career victory and had his team insist he ring the victory bell afterwards. “I knew we had it in us. We’d seen moments of that, in the North Carolina game, in brief moments in our games over the weekend.
“This was a good sustained 40 minutes. We paid attention to our defensive game plan, and our interior defense was really good.”
Starkey said the plan was to try to play Youngstown one-on-one in the post so the Penguins couldn’t kick the ball out for open three-point shots.
Freshman forward Lindsey Thall and 6-4 senior Merissa Barber-Smith, with help from Ali Poole and Sydney Brinlee, frustrated YSU all game. Sarah Cash, a fifth-year senior and preseason all-Horizon League selection, got off only seven shots and made one of them.
“People don’t realize what a difference it meant when we lost Merissa (to a medical issue) last year,” Starkey said. “”When you don’t have to double team, it settles everything else down around it. She can contest shots, rebound and block shots.”
Barber-Smith blocked five shots and had 11 rebounds in 16 minutes. Thall blocked two shots — giving her six in two games — and had a season-best nine rebounds. “Her best post effort,” Starkey said.
Youngstown State made made six of 31 shots and two of 17 three-pointers in the first half. Kent State seemed to be able to contest every shot.
The Flashes’ offense in the first half was its best of the year. KSU made 48 percent of its shots and 63 percent of its three pointers to take a 35-16 lead at halftime.
Leading scorer Megan Carter led the team with 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Kent State got a big boost from freshman Mariah Modkins, who started at point guard in place of the injured Asiah Dingle, KSU’s second leading scorer. Modkins scored 14 points on six of 12 shooting in 35 minutes. She made two three-point shots, had three assists and two steals.
“I’m not surprised by it,” Starkey said. “She’s a really good player. She did a great job picking her spots, really hawking the ball. I think her energy intensity really lifted the whole team.”
Modkins said it was “exciting to hear her name called” after playing so much less than she had in high school.
“I knew that I had to bring energy, especially on defense,” she said. “We knew that their guards were not as steady with the ball. So we had to really pressure the ball and make them uncomfortable.”
Offensively, Modkins said that after two early turnovers, she “slowed my mind down to make the right reads and get the ball where it needed to go.”
Starkey said he “wasn’t exactly happy” after the weekend victories over Northern Kentucky and Oakland.
“I knew we had better than that in us,” he said. “Our younger players didn’t get that. But Megan, Ali, Lex (senior Alexa Golden), they get it. They understood, they were nodding their heads. And I think our young players saw how bought in they were and said, ‘OK, maybe there’s something to this.'”
Starkey, Carter and Poole had all criticized the team’s toughness in interviews Sunday.
“That was the No. 1 point today — to be tough from start to finish,” Starkey said. I thought we were,” the coach said.
- The 32 points were the lowest Kent State had allowed since it beat Robert Morris 46-31 last season. That score was the lowest in more than two decades. But the Flashes’ offense was far better than in this game.
- Kent State’s offense fell off to 29 percent shooting in the second half. “In the second half, playing three games in four days caught up to us,” Starkey said.
- The Flashes scored 12 points off of 11 YSU turnovers. Youngstown had six off of 11 KSU turnovers, Kent’s lowest number of the season. The Flashes had 20 points in the paint; Youngstown had six. KSU had 17 fast-break points, YSU five.
- Community college transfer Jess Wallis sank a three-point basket for the first points of her college career. Sophomore Monique Smith got her first points of the season on an offensive putback, one of three rebounds she had. Freshman Annie Pavlansky saw her first collegiate action.
- Everyone on the roster but Dingle played.
The Flashes are off for Thanksgiving and return to play their fourth straight home game Tuesday, Nov. 27, against Duquesne. The Dukes have all of their starters back from a team that went 25-8 last season. But so far they’re 1-3, with losses to TCU, No. 11 Texas and Toledo. After that game, Kent State travel on Dec. 3 to play their fourth Horizon League opponent, Wright State, which was picked third in the conference. (YSU was picked fourth.) Wright State also is 1-3 with losses to three good teams.