KSU’s Asiah celebrates on her way to 29 points and KSU’s first MAC win. (Photo by David Dermer from KSU website.)
In the middle of the first quarter, Kent State coach Todd Starkey shouted to freshman point guard Asiah Dingle:
“Down hill. Every time.”
Dingle did exactly what he asked for 39 minutes on Saturday.
She drove to the basket almost at will, scored 29 points, stole the ball five times and had two assists. She grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots. (She’s all of 5-foot-5). All but the assists were the highest in her short career.
Her performance led the Flashes to a 71-64 victory over Eastern Michigan in their Mid-American Conference opener. The Flashes are now 8-4 on the season and, obviously, tied with five other teams for first in the MAC at 1-0.
Dingle had averaged 12 points a game, second on the team, with a high of 17.
What happened to create such a break-out game?
“Me and coach had a talk,” she said in a postgame interview, looking at the Starkey to see how much she should say. He continued the conversation.
“We just talked about how she’s talented enough to be one of the best players in the conference,” Starkey said, “but not without playing hard every moment.
“So she did it. She played with great focus and intensity and confidence.”
And what does “down hill” mean?
“Beat your defender,” Dingle said.
And how does she do that?
“I catch the defense off guard,” she said. “I, like, trick them into doing something, and then I get a split second. and get that first step.”
Then it’s “Just stop me,” she said.
To Starkey, “down hill” means “Get the ball and drive at the basket until they stop you.”
In one of his conversations with Dingle, Starkey told her: “You have to let me be hardest on our best lawyers, and you’re our most talented. And so I’m not going to give you any room. I’m going to keep coaching you, and how you accept that coaching is going to determine what your season looks like.
“She took that to heart, and the way she played today…that’s what we expect from her.”
Dingle’s 29 points were the most for any Kent player this season. Her game was the best by a Kent State point guard since the Flashes had Dawn Zerman, who led two MAC championship teams between 1996 and 2000 and probably is the best point guard in KSU history. Dingle was the Boston Globe’s player of the year her senior yearand led her high school team to three state championships.
“She could have had 40,” Starkey said, moving into his “what we need to do better mode.”
He said Dingle could have made five or six more layups on her drives. (She was 10 of 22 shooting.)
“We missed 12 layups in the first half, and more in the second,” he said. “We had too many turnovers (10) in the first half.”
The Flashes went ahead 22-10 after a quarter.
Then, Starkey said,”We let our foot off the gas, started turning the ball over and not finishing plays. Everybody in this league will pounce on that and will be able to get back in the game.
“That’s one of the things this young team will have to learn — that every possession matters even when you’re up by 12 early.”
The Flashes played a very young line-up Saturday. At times, they had four freshmen on the floor in a close game. Second leading scorer was freshman forward Lindsey Thall, who had 14 points, one off her high. Thall, who is 6-foot-2, also blocked four shots, three in the first quarter.
“It’s not great leaping ability,” Starkey said. “She’s just got really good timing. She keeps her hands up and makes players shoot the ball into her hands.
“She’s really developed defensively since she’s been here. That’s where I’m most proud of her.”
Thall made four-of-six three-point shots. She leads the team in three-point baskets with 22. Next step, she and Starkey said, is to score elsewhere.
“Coach says I’m easy to guard because people will just find me trying to get three-point shots,” Thall said. “But if I get more looks inside, then I can help my team to open up other things.”
Senior Alexa Golden hit three three-point shots, had nine rebounds and four assists. She led a defense that held held Eastern’s three leading scorers, who had averaged a total of 40 points a game, to 25. Golden played all 40 minutes.
After KSU’s overpowering 22-10 first quarter, Eastern pulled to within 35-32 at halftime and led 49-48 at the end of the third quarter. But behind 13 points from Dingle, the Flashes reclaimed the game in the fourth quarter. They outscored Eatern 7-2 in the first five minutes and eventually built a lead as big as 10.
- The game was pretty much the way Starkey has wanted the team to play since practice started. The Flashes made his goal of 70 points, scored in transition (21 fast-break points), had assists on 14 or 24 baskets and shot pretty well, especially in the first and fourth quarters.
- Kent State made a season-high 12 three-point baskets with a season-high 54.5 percent three-point shooting (12 of 22). Overall the team shot 38.7 percent, about a point ahead of its average. Combined shooting percentage for the first and fourth quarter was 48 percent. For the second and third, it was 30 percent.
- KSU has the best field-goal defensive percentage in the league and EMU the worst field-goal offense. On Saturday, Eastern made 33.8 percent of its shots, about a point below KSU’s defensive average and about 2 points below the Eagles’ offensive average.
- Other scorers for Kent State were Ali Poole, who had seven, including two three-pointers and Merissa Barber-Smith and Megan Carter had four. Carter, Kent State’s leading scorer, struggled all night and didn’t make a field goal. Barber-Smith also had six rebounds in 12 minutes, keeping up her 0.5-rebound per minute pace. That seems to be the best in the MAC (it’s a very unofficial statistics). Freshman Mariah Modkins had three points.
- Dingle’s 29 points were the most by a KSU freshman since Ellie Shields scored 31 vs. Toledo on Jan. 30, 2008.
- Both teams committed 17 turnovers. Eastern scored 13 off of Kent’s; KSU had 12.
- Kent State’s eight blocked shots tied for second best in the MAC this season. The Flashes lead the league in blocks per game at 4.0. Thall’s four moved her into the league lead at 1.5 a game. Barber-Smith, who didn’t block a shot for the first time in eight games, is second at 1.4.
- It was the third straight game the Flashes have beaten Eastern by seven points. Starkey has won all five of his games against the Eagles. Before he arrived in Kent, KSU had lost 11 straight.
- Attendance was first listed at 390, then changed to about 1,400 in final box score. There were probably about that number when game started, but crowd grew steadily as men’s game approached.
- Lots of good photos and video of the game are on the KSU Twitter feed (@KentStateWbb) and photographer David Dermer’s feed (@DavidDermerPix).
The Flashes play at home again Wednesday against Northern Illinois (9-4), which beat 9-3 Miami 82-71 in DeKalb. Game time is 7 p.m.
Other MAC scores
- Ohio stayed undefeated at 12-0 with a 74-71 overtime victory at Buffalo (8-4). The Bobcats held Buffalo’s Cierra Dillard, the country’s second-leading scorer, 10 points below her 25-point average.
- Akron (9-3) led defending league champion Central Michigan by eight points after the first quarter. But Central dominated the rest of the game to win, 94-71, Central is 10-3 and plays at Ohio on Wednesday.
- Western Michigan (7-6) beat Bowling Green (7-5) at BG, 84-82.
- Toledo (9-3) beat Ball State (5-8) in Toledo, 65-58.