Seniors Merissa Barber-Smith (22) and Alexa Golden and coach Todd Starkey ham it up in the team website’s promotion for Senior Day.
Kent State plays Buffalo Saturday in a game that means almost nothing in the standings and so much to a pair of KSU seniors.
It will be Senior Day at 2 p.m. last the M.A.C. Center, honoring Alexa Golden and Merissa Barber-Smith. Golden has been a four-year starter at guard and the soul of Kent’s defense; Barber-Smith has developed into an outstanding rebounder and defender.
It won’t be Golden and Barber-Smith’s last game at home. They and their teammates will play a first-round league tournament game at the M.A.C.C. on Monday, time and opponent to be decided after Saturday’s game.
The Flashes are 10-7 in the MAC and will get a fifth or sixth seed in the tournament. 17-11 overall. Buffalo is 12-5 and 19-9 and will get a third or fourth seed, depending on Saturday’s results here and in other games.
Coach Todd Starkey couldn’t say enough about his seniors after KSU’s overtime win against Akron Wednesday.
“I’m as proud of them as I’ve ever been about graduating seniors,” he said. “They’ve bought in from Day One and have listened and have given us everything.”
The two were recruited by former coach Danny O’Banion and struggled through the coach’s final 6-23 season. They played major roles in Starkey’s first season, when the Flashes surprised everyone with a 19-13 record and a MAC East divisional championship. Last year’s team was 13-19; Barber-Smith couldn’t even play after Christmas because of a medical issue.
And this season they have mentored a roster that is 50 percent different than last season’s and features four freshmen in major roles.
Both have had their best years in 2018-19.
Golden is among MAC leaders in four different categories, including first in the league in steals during conference play. (At this point in the season, that’s the only statistic I pay attention to. What players did in November doesn’t reflect how they’re playing now.)
Golden has never been a huge scorer — her 8.5-point average this season is the best in her four years. But she’s been the team’s best defensive player since her first game and does a million things that don’t show in statistics. When O’Banion announced Golden’s official commitment to Kent State, she called her an archetype “glue player.” After the Akron game, Starkey called her a “whatever-it-takes player.”
Early next week, the MAC will announce its year-end awards, including the league’s all-defensive team. Golden has never been on it; I fervently hope they’ll correct that error.
Golden played at Chartiers Valley High School in suburban Pittsburgh. Her family and friends are frequent visitors to Kent for games.
Barber-Smith has had tough road through life on her way toward graduation in May. She grew up in a Chicago neighborhood that her mother wanted her family out of so much she sent them to her grandmother in Madison, Wisconsin, when Barber-Smith was 11 years old. After her mother was able to join them, they had to spend a few weeks in a homeless shelter. Kent Stater sports editor Henry Palattella told her story in this November 2017 article.
Barber-Smith played sparingly her freshman year at Kent State. When Starkey arrived, she found a role as Kent State’s first line of defense against tall, physical opponents. That season Starkey credited her with making the difference in three important victories; without her, there would have been no MAC East title. Playing in the WNIT against the University of Michigan and its All-American center, Barber-Smith had 13 rebounds and eight points in just 19 minutes.
After a solid non-conference season last year, Barber-Smith never played a conference game. “People don’t realize how much we missed her,” Starkey said before this season. If she had played and made the difference in three games again, KSU’s disappointing 13-19 season would have been an happier .500 year.
This season she’s been a part-time starter, depending on the size of the opposing front line. She leads the MAC in a very unofficial statistic — rebounds per minute played. Barber-Smith is eighth in the conference overall in rebounding though she averages just 16.5 minutes in a 40-minute game. Her rebounds per minute number is .44.
The league leader in rebounds in Central Michigan’s Reyna Frost, a major candidate for MAC player of the year. Frost averages 15.4 rebounds a game, two above the current conference record. She averages 37.7 minutes a game, the most in the MAC. Her rebounds per minute average: .41 — less than Barber-Smith.
Kent State’s 6-4 center has played the best basketball of her career over the Flashes’ last four games, averaging 13.0 rebounds a game.
The Buffalo game
Buffalo (12-5 MAC, 20-8 overall) at Kent State (10-7, 17-11) at 2 p.m. Saturday at the M.A.C.C.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: It’s the last regular-season game before the Mid-American Conference Tournament, which starts Monday at campus sites. Buffalo has clinched at least fourth place and a first-round bye. Kent State owns at least sixth and a first-round home game. To move up, both teams will need others to lose. Possible opponents for them are so similar that Saturday’s results are unlikely to make a big difference in their tournament chances.
IN THE MAC: Tied for third with Miami, two games behind first-place Central Michigan. One of the hottest teams in the league with three straight double-digit wins, including one over second-place Ohio by 30 points and Miami by 25.
RPI: 37 of 351 teams. Schedule strength: 62. Road record: 9-5. 19th-ranked mid-major team by CollegeInsider.com. Beat Kent State 75-66 in Buffalo on Feb. 9.
LAST GAME: Beat Bowling Green 75-61 at home on Wednesday.
KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)
(I’m switching to conference-game-only statistics because they better reflect how a team is playing now.)
- Scores 77.6 points a game, second in MAC. Opponents score 67.8 (fifth). Field goal percentage: 42.7 (third). Field goal defense: 39.3 (third).
- Three-point percentage: 31.7 (ninth). Three-point baskets per game: 7.1 (seventh). Three-point defense: 30.5 (third). Free throw percentage 76.7 (second).
- Rebounding margin: Plus-4.9 (second). Offensive rebounds per game: 14.9 (first).
- Turnover margin: Plus-2.6 (second). Steals per game: 9.6 (second). Blocked shots per game: 3.1 (fourth).
- 5-foot-9 senior guard Cierra Dillard (25.6 points per game, first in MAC and second in nation). Assists per game: 6.4 (first). Steals: 2.8 (second). Field-goal percentage: 36.8 (13th). Three-point percentage: 32.2 (10th). Three-pointers per game: 3.2 (second). Free-throw percentage: 81.0 (fourth). One of top two candidates (with Reyna Frost of Central Michigan) for MAC player of the year.
- 6-1 junior center Summer Hemphill (14.1 points, 14th). Rebounds: 10.6 (second). Field-goal percentage: 61.0 (first). Free-throw percentage: 69.9 (15th). Blocks: 1.2 (fifth).
- 6-2 junior center Theresa Onwuka (9.5 points, 5.4 rebounds).
IN THE MAC: Sixth at 10-7. Could move to fifth with a win over Buffalo and a Toledo loss at Central Michigan Saturday.
RPI: 85. Schedule strength: 85. Road record: 7-8. Lost at Buffalo 75-66 on Feb. 9.
LAST GAME: Won in overtime 65-55 at Akron on Wednesday.
KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)
- 65.9 points a game (eighth in MAC). Opponents average 64.0 (second).
- Field goal percentage: 37.0 (last). Field goal defense: 39.8 (fourth).
- Three-point percentage: 33.4 (sixth). Three-point baskets per game: 7.5 (sixth). Three-point defense: 32.6 (seventh).
- Rebounding margin: Plus-0.9 (fifth). Turnover margin: Plus 2.4 (third)
- Blocked shots: 3.9 (first). Steals: 8.5 (third).
KEY PLAYER STATS
- 5-7 redshirt junior guard Megan Carter: 16.6 points, ninth in MAC. Field-goal percentage: 40.2 (11th). Three-point percentage: 40.0. Free-throw percentage: 73.4 (11th). Assists: 2.1 (25th).
- 5-9 senior guard Alexa Golden: 8.6 points. Steals: 3.4 (first). Assists: 3.1 (16th). Blocks: 0.6 (15th). Rebounds: 6.4 (17th).
- 5-4 freshman point guard Asiah Dingle: 12.9 points (20th). Field-goal percentage: 36.4. Free-throw percentage: 76.8 (seventh) . Steals: 2.1 (seventh). Assists: 2.4 (24th).
- 6-2 freshman forward Lindsay Thall: 10.7 points. Three-point percentage: 47.4 (first). Three-point baskets per game: 2.2 (10th). Blocked shots: 1.7 (second). Rebounds: 5.1 (25th).
- 6-0 junior guard Ali Poole: 9.5 points. Rebounds: 4.4.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Two of the best defensive teams in the MAC, but Buffalo has a much more high-powered offense and one of the best players in the country in Dillard. To have a shot at winning, Kent State will have to put four quarters together as well as it did when it beat then first-place Miami 10 days ago.
To follow the game
Action starts at 2 p.m. Saturday at the M.A.C. Center. Chairback tickets are $10, general admission $5. Average Kent attendance is 985, seventh in the MAC and highest in at least seven years.
Audio starts at about 1:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. Jacob Pavilack does play-by-play
Video is through ESPN+, which costs $4.99 a month. The network will carry all MAC Tournament games except the women’s finals and the men’s semifinals and finals. You can watch through ESPN on your television or computer or through the ESPN app. David Wilson and Henry Palattella are the announcers.
Live statistics are available through the Kent State website.
Kent State women’s website, including links to statistics, roster and more.
Buffalo website, including links.
MAC conference-game statistics, including link to full-season stats.