Kent State in the huddle against Bowling Green in its last home game. (Photo by Austin Mariasy from KSU website)
Kent State plays its two biggest home games of the Mid-American Conference season over the next six days.
On Saturday afternoon, the Flashes host second-place Ohio, which has the best overall record in the conference at 21-3.
On Wednesday, first-place Miami comes to town.
If KSU is to challenge for a first-round bye in the MAC Tournament, they likely have to win one of these games and beat fourth-place Buffalo in Kent in the last game of the regular season.
It won’t be easy. Both teams beat Kent State on the road in the first half of the conference season. Ohio build a big first half lead and held off a KSU rally to beat the Flashes 83-81 on Jan. 16. Bowling Green topped the Flashes 79-63 on Jan. 26. It was KSU’s widest loss and worst defensive performance of the MAC season. it was also the last game of a four-game losing streak for KSU.
Since then, the Flashes have won five of six, though the competition has been considerably less than Ohio and Miami.
“Ohio and in Miami have really have really done the best job of taking the team that they had and moving to the top of the league,” KSU coach Todd Starkey said on KSU’s Hoop Scoop broadcast Thursday. “It’s going to be going to be tough. But that’s what this conference is all about, and that’s why we love Mac play.
“I think our players understand what’s at stake — that we have an opportunity to really get ourselves on the cusp of the top four and a bye to Cleveland.”
Kent State is now tied for fifth with Northern Illinois at 8-5; if the teams tie at the end of the season, Kent gets the higher seed in the tournament because of its 87-78 victory over the Huskies. The Flashes are a game ahead of Toledo, another team it holds a tie-breaker against.
KSU is one game behind Buffalo, two games behind Ohio and Central Michigan in second, and three games behind Miami. There are five regular-season games left.
Besides the Ohio, Miami and Buffalo home games, Kent State travels to Akron (5-8 in MAC) and Bowling Green (1-12). The Flashes have beaten both teams in Kent.
About the Ohio game
Ohio (10-3 MAC, 21-3 overall) at Kent State (8-5, 15-9) at 2 p.m. Saturday at the M.A.C. Center.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: At this point, Kent State is the best of the second tier of the MAC. Ohio is a chance to prove the Flashes belong among the top four. Ohio is tied for second place, a game out of first. The Bobcats can’t afford to lose a game like this if they want a conference championship.
STARKEY ON THE OHIO GAME: “I think Ohio has probably the most weapons in the conference, especially from a perimeter standpoint. They shoot the three so well. If they’re down, they can come back in the blink of an eye. and if they’re up, they can put you away really quickly.
“They play a unique style of defense that can really disrupt what you’re trying to do. They can completely take a team out of what they’re trying to do.
“They’ve got one of the top five players in the league in Cece Hooks. She can just take over the game.
“Ohio has a whole week of prep because this is their bye week. It’s not the team you necessarily want to play when they get a week to rest to prepare for you and get their legs back under them.”
Above is from Starkey’s Hoop Scoop interview. Last quote is from Allen Moff in the Record-Courter.
“Our margin for error against Ohio is pretty small. We have to do a lot of things right, and we have to shoot the ball well.”
IN THE MAC: Tied for second at 10-3, losing to Miami and Central Michigan at home and at Toledo. It has won four of its last five, including a 78-75 win at Central.
(I use full league standings because seedings are determined solely on the conference record. Where a team finishes in its division means nothing.)
RPI: 31 of 351 teams, second best in the MAC after Central Michigan. Schedule strength: 132. Road record: 8-1. Tenth in latest College Insider Mid-Major Top 25. CMU is seventh, Miami 14th and Buffalo 15th. Toledo and Kent State also received votes.
LAST GAME: Beat Western Michigan 70-56 in Athens on Saturday. Had a midweek bye.
KEY TEAM STATS (conference statistics only)
- Scores 76.8 points a game, third in MAC. Opponents score 69.0 (sixth).
- Field goal percentage: 41.8 (sixth). Field goal defense: 42.0 (eighth).
- Three-point percentage: 34.7 (tied for second). Three-point baskets per game: 10.0 (first). Three-point defense: 33.7 (eighth).
- Rebounding margin: Minus-2.5 (eighth). Turnover margin: plus-5.5 (first).
Including non-conference games, Ohio is 13th in the country in scoring, seventh in three-point baskets per game, 25th in field goal percentage, 10th in turnovers margin and 22nd in steals per game.
- 5-foot-8 sophomore guard Cierra Hooks (18.1 points per game, fifth in MAC) Field-goal percentage 49.5 (sixth): Assists: 4.4 (sixth). Steals: 2.7 (third). Rebounds: 5.6 (20th)
- 5-11 redshirt freshman forward Erica Johnson (14.5 points, 12th). Three-point percentage 45.6 (second). Three-point baskets per game: 2.1 (13th). Free-throw percentage: 67.9 ninth). Assists: 3.5 (12th). Rebounds: 6.3 (17th). Steals: 1.7 (15th). A leading candidate for MAC freshman of year.
- 5-9 junior guard Amani Burke (12.8 points, 19th)). Three-point percentage: 37.5 (13th). Three-point baskets per game: 2.8 (sixth). Blocked shots: 1.1 (fifth).
About Kent State
IN THE MAC: Tied for fifth with Northern Illinois at 8-5, one game behind Buffalo and three games behind first-place Miami.
RPI: 80. Schedule strength: 97. Home record: 9-2. Has won five of last six games.
LAST GAME: Won 56-52 at Western Michigan Wednesday.
KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)
- 67.2 points a game (eighth). Opponents average 64.9 (third).
- Field goal percentage: 37.8 (last). Field goal defense: 40.1 (third).
- Three-point percentage: 34.4 (fifth). Three-point baskets per game: 7.4 (seventh). Three-point defense: 33.3 (seventh).
- Rebounding margin: Plus-0.2 (seventh). Turnover margin: Plus-2.1 (fourth)
- Blocked shots: 3.9 (first). Steals: 8.8 (third).
KEY PLAYER STATS
- 5-7 redshirt junior guard Megan Carter: 17.2 points, eighth in MAC. Field-goal percentage: 42.9 (10th). Three-point percentage: 38.6 (11th). Free-throw percentage: 75.7 (fifth). Assists: 2.3 (23rd).
- 5-4 freshman point guard Asiah Dingle: 13.1 points (18th). Free-throw percentage: 77.8 (fourth). Steals: 2.2 (seventh).
- 5-9 senior guard Alexa Golden: 9.8 points. Three-point percentage: 36.7 (18th). Steals: 3.3 (first). Assists: 2.8 (17th). Blocks: 0.8 (tied for 11th). Rebounds: 6.2 (18th).
- 6-0 junior guard Ali Poole: 9.8 points. Three-point percentage: 40.4 (sixth). Three-point baskets per game: 1.8 (tied for 15th).
- 6-2 freshman forward Lindsey Thall: 9.5 points. Three-point percentage: 43.4 (fourth). Three pointers per game: 1.8 (tied for 15th). Blocked shots: 1.6 (second). Rebounds: 5.2.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Ohio is favored. At home, Kent State should have a chance. But the Flashes can’t afford the long offensive droughts that hurt them at Western.
To follow the game
The game starts at 2 p.m. Saturday at the M.A.C.C. Center-court chairback tickets are $10, general admission $5. Students are free with Kent State ID. Average home attendance has been 932, seventh in conference.
Audio starts at about 1:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. Jacob Pavilack does play-by-play.
Video is through ESPN3. You can watch it through your cable or satellite company or the ESPN app. David Wilson is play-by-play announcer.
Live statistics are available through the Kent State website.
Kent State women’s website, including links to statistics, roster and more.
Ohio website, including links.
MAC conference-only statistics, including link to full-season stats.