A look through the victory bell as Ali Poole (23) leads her team to the ringer. (Photo by Henry Palattella of KentWired)
Ali Poole scored a career-high 28 points to lead Kent State to a big 87-78 victory Over Northern Illinois Wednesday, but two of the baskets are ones she’ll remember for a long time.
With four seconds to go in the first half, Poole caught an inbound pass under the basket, dribbled to the top of the key, leaped while kicking her right foot back three feet off the ground, and threw up a shot as time expired.
It must of arced 20 feet into the air, and banked cleanly off the backboard and through the hoop.
Halftime score: Kent State 43, Northern Illinois 41.
“It would have hit the ceiling in my high school gym,” Poole said after the game.
Did she know it had a chance?
“I had just hit two three-point shots,” she said. “I thought I’d try for a third.”
In the fourth quarter, KSU held a 74-69 lead with about four minutes to go and the shot clock expiring. Poole got the ball at the top of the key, twisted the left around an NIU player and tossed it up — and in — again.
“That,” Poole confessed on a postgame radio interview, “was a prayer.”
Nevertheless, Northern never got closer than five points after that as the Flashes played good defense against a team that had ranked 13th in the nation in scoring at 83.1 points a game.
The victory moves Kent State to 2-0 in the MAC and puts them alone in a first-place tie with Central Michigan, which routed previously undefeated Ohio in Athens, 88-70.
Kent and CMU are the only teams not to lose a conference game in the first week. Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green are 0-2. Everyone else is 1-1.
For the season, the Flashes are 9-4 and have won six straight games. Northern Illinois is 9-5 and lost for the first time in six games.
Lots of good video — including Poole buzzer-beater at the end of the first half and a highlight tape — plus photos are on the KSU Twitter feed, @kentstatewbb.
“We knew they were really going to collapse on our drives,” coach Todd Starkey said. “Ali was the one they left open most of the time, and she did a good job of knocking down shots.”
“It’s a lot easier to hit a three when no one’s guarding you,” Poole said.
Poole made 11-of-20 shots and four-of-eight three-pointers, scoring nine points above her previous best game. She had seven rebounds, a block and a steal. She played a career-high 39 of the possible 40 minutes.
Freshman Lindsey Thall also had a career high at 17 points, 13 coming in the first half. She made three-of-five three-point shots, had seven rebounds, an assist and a steal with no turnovers. She blocked two shots and continues to lead the MAC in blocks at 1.5 per game.
Freshman guard Asiah Dingle, who scored 29 in KSU’s win against, also had 17 points with four assists and three steals. Redshirt junior Megan Carter scored 12 points. Senior Alexa Golden had five assists, five rebounds, four steals and a blocked shot. As usual, Golden led the KSU defense, which clinched the game in the fourth quarter.
KSU outscored Northern 28-16 in the last period and held the Huskies to four-of-18 shooting in the quarter. Northern is fourth in the MAC in shooting percentage.
“When it came down to the last five minutes, we really communicated and defended them really well,” Golden said. Communication, she said, means alerting teammates of screens and switches.
During a timeout, Starkey said: “After I made a loud noice with my clipboard and got their attention, we just told them, ‘You do it, and we win. Or you don’t do it, and we lose.'”
Merissa Barber-Smith, KSU’s 6-4 senior center, made a big difference on defense late in the game, the coach said.
“She came up really big with a couple of deflections or steals late,” Starkey said, “and she came up with some big rebounds.” Barber-Smith had four points, five rebounds, two steals and a block in 16 minutes of play.
- The defensive game plan, Starkey said, was to “keep them out of the paint, slow them down in transition, and made them take tough shots.” NIU had 22 points in the paint; Kent State had 30. The Huskies had six fast-break points and scored eight points off of 15 KSU turnovers; the Flashes had 12 fast-break points and 20 points off 22 NIU turnovers.
- Kent State’s 87 points was its most against a Division I opponent since a wild 98-97 loss to Northern Illinois in Kent in 2017. Its 28 points in the fourth quarter were the fourth most they’ve ever scored in any quarter. College women’s basketball switched from halves to quarters in 2015.
- The victory was Starkey’s first against NIU, which had beaten Kent State three straight times. The only teams Starkey hasn’t beaten in his three years are Central Michigan and Ball State.
- Kent State made 29 of its 67 shots for 43.3 percent. That’s about 5 points above its average. Northern made 28 of 63 for 44.4 percent.
- Rebounding was even at 37. The Flashes outrebounded NIU 14-5 in the fourth quarter. Kent State had 15 assists on 29 baskets.
- NIU’s Mikayla Voigt, the league’s No. 2 scorer, led Northern with 26 points, four assists and three steals. She played all 40 minutes.
- Attendance was listed at 215, about as low as I can remember.
The Flashes play their first MAC road game Saturday at 9-4 Toledo, which lost 65-64 at Miami Wednesday.
Other MAC scores
Central Michigan (11-3) 88, Ohio (12-1) 70 at Ohio.
Akron (10-3) 72, Western Michigan (7-6) 59 at Western.
Ball State (6-8) 77, Bowling Green (7-6) 70 at Ball State.
Buffalo (9-4) 91, Eastern Michigan (7-6) 84 in overtime at Eastern.
Miami (10-3) 65, Toledo (9-4) 64 at Miami.