Freshman Mariah Modkins (left) and senior Alexa Golden celebrate Saturday’s victory over Buffalo. Senior Merissa Barber-Smith is in background. (Photo by David Dermer.)
As Kent State starts MAC Tournament play Monday, coach Todd Starkey says this year’s team may have accomplished even more than his MAC East championship team of two years ago.
The Flashes play Bowling Green at 7 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center in a first-round game. Winner advances to play Buffalo in the quarterfinals Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
“I think we’re having an unbelievable year, based on having half a roster that’s brand new and 45 percent of our scoring coming from freshmen,” Starkey said after Kent State’s overtime win in Akron last week, one of two big victories that ended the regular season. “That’s the narrative of this year. Everybody wants to talk about our first year of being the best year we’ve had.
“Well, statistically speaking, where we are, the schedule we’ve played, and what we positioned ourselves for, this is the best year we’ve had. We’re 17-11 and 10-7 (now 18-11 and 11-7) in the toughest the MAC has ever been.
“Would I have liked to have won a few more games? Sure. But there’s probably several games we could have lost, too. But we’ve had a really good year.”
KSU’s loss at Bowling Green nine days ago is one of those games the Flashes — at least on paper — should have won. The Falcons have been mired in last place in the MAC the entire season. But when the teams met in BG, almost nothing went right for Kent State on offense. The Flashes missed 25 two-point shots, 24 three-point shots and 10 foul shots. Some of that was Bowling Green’s defense, but Starkey said that after looking at tape of the game, a lot of those shots were well-selected. They just missed.
“If you don’t shoot the ball well against any team in the league, you can lose,” Starkey said.
Shooting has been Kent State’s biggest problem all season. The Flashes are last in the league in field goal percentage at 37.1 percent. That’s a full 2 points behind Eastern Michigan, the next-worst team, and 11 points behind Central Michigan, the best-shooting team in the league.
In the two MAC games, the Flashes probably should have won (Bowling Green and a 48-44 loss at 11th-place Ball State), Kent State shot below 27 percent. In two four-point wins over 10th-place Western Michigan, KSU shot less than 34 percent.
At the first practice I saw before the season started, Starkey said something like, “Aren’t you seeing the ball going into the basket a lot more?”
Well, sometimes. Unfortunately, not all that often.
Instead the Flashes have won on defense.
“That’s been our backbone,” Starkey said. “We chart out in the top five in the league in about every category in defensive statistics.”
Senior Alexa Golden, the team’s defensive leader for four years, explained it this way at Akron.
“We have a more athletic team,” she said.. “We have more people that can sit in front of the other teams’ guards. Our posts should get a lot of credit; they’ve played really good defense. We’re just more of an all-round team.”
So is it really been a better season that 2017-18? We won’t really know until after the tournament and, probably, a second WNIT bid in three years.
The wonder of the team two years ago was that its success came out of nowhere. The Flashes won more games than Kent State had won the four previous years combined. So Starkey and his assistants took a team that had known only defeat and taught it to win. That was a magical accomplishment.
This year’s team has certainly exceeded by expectations. Starkey’s, too, to read between the lines of some interviews. I thought the Flashes had a chance at a .500 season — maybe a touch better. We could describe this year’s success like that: Starkey and his staff — and upperclassmen like Golden, Megan Carter, Ali Poole and Merissa Barber-Smith — helped a group of high school stars learn how to win in college.
Either year was pretty special.
Some numbers if you want compare:
Finished 19-13. Third in the MAC (first in the East) with a 13-5 record. RPI: 99 of 351 teams. Schedule strength: 99. MAC ranking in RPI: 10th of 31 conferences. Lost in the MAC quarterfinals to Toledo in the last minute. Lost to eventual champion Michigan in the first round of the WNIT.
Currently 18-11 with at least one game to play. I’d bet on at least three — two in the MAC Tournament and a WNIT game. Fifth in MAC (fourth in the East) with an 11-7 record. RPI: 72. Schedule strength: 78. MAC ranking: Eighth.
About Monday’s tournament game
Bowling Green (2-16 MAC, 9-20 overall) at Kent State (11-7 and 18-11) at 7 p.m. Monday at the M.A.C Center.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: It’s tournament time: Win or go home. Monday’s winner advances to play quarterfinals to play fourth-seeded Buffalo at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
About Bowling Green
IN THE MAC: Last at 2-16. Only wins were against fourth-place Buffalo and fifth-place Kent State, both at home.
RPI: 214 of 351 teams. Schedule strength: 80. Road record: 2-13. Falcons have lost six of last seven. They split season series with Kent State, winning at BG 62-49 and losing in Kent 77-73.
LAST GAME: Lost at Ohio 76-66 Saturday.
KEY TEAM STATS (conference statistics only)
- Scores 66.8 points a game, seventh in MAC. Opponents score 77.1 (last).
- Field goal percentage: 41.2 (fifth). Field goal defense: 43.0 (10th).
- 3-point percentage: 34.3 (third). 3-point baskets per game: 7.9 (fourth). Three-point defense: 33.6 (eighth). Free-throw percentage: 73.3 (fifth).
- Rebounding margin: Minus-2.6 (eighth). Turnover margin: Minus-4.9 (last).
- 6-1 junior wing Andrea Cecil: 15.8 points per game, 10th in MAC. Field goal percent: 44.1, (sixth). Free-throw percentage: 90.6 (second). Rebounds: 6.1 (19th).
- 5-9 freshman guard Morgan McMillen: 10.6 points. 3-point percentage: 34.6 (eighth). Three-pointers per game: 2.5 (sixth).
- 5-8 senior guard Sidney Lambert: 12.4 points. Assists: 3.4 (12th). Free-throw percentage: 81.4 (fourth). Rebounds: 5.2.
- 5-9 freshman guard Kadie Kempfling: 6.5 rebounds, (15th).
IN THE MAC: Tied for fifth with Toledo at 11-7.
RPI: 72, a season high, and highest of at least eight years. (Buffalo and Akron wins helped them jump 16 spots in the last week. Schedule strength: 78. Home record: 11-3. Has won two in a row and six of last nine.
LAST GAME: Beat fourth-place Buffalo 62-53 Saturday in Kent.
KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)
- 67.1 points a game (eighth). Opponents average 64.7 (third).
- Field goal percentage: 37.9 (last). Field goal defense: 40.6 (fourth).
- 3-point percentage: 35.3 (second). 3-point baskets per game: 7.6 (fourth). 3-point defense: 32.6 (sixth).
- Rebounding margin: Plus-0.9 (fifth). Turnover margin: Plus-2.0 (fourth)
- Blocked shots: 3.8 (first). Steals: 8.6 (third).
KEY PLAYER STATS
- 5-7 redshirt junior guard Megan Carter: 16.3 points, ninth in MAC. Field-goal percentage: 40.2 (ninth). 3-point percentage: 40.8. Free-throw percentage: 74.0 (12th).
- 5-4 freshman point guard Asiah Dingle: 13.1 points (18th). Free-throw percentage: 76.3 (ninth). Steals: 2.1 (sixth). Assists: 2.3 (24th).
- 6-2 freshman forward Lindsey Thall: 10.8 points. 3-point percentage: 45.8 (first). Three-point baskets per game: 2.1 (10th). Blocked shots: 1.9 (first). Rebounds: 5.1.
- 5-9 senior guard Alexa Golden: 9.1 points. 3-point percentage: (10th). Steals: 3.2 (first). Assists: 3.1 (15th). Blocks: 0.7 (16th). Rebounds: 6.4 (17th).
- 6-4 center Merissa Barber-Smith: 7.2 rebounds (11th), 0.8 blocks (13th).
- 6-0 junior guard Ali Poole: 9.7 points. 3-point baskets per game: 1.6 (19th). Rebounds: 4.4.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Every number favors Kent State except this one: Bowling Green 62, Kent State 49 on March 2.
To follow the game
The game starts at 7 p.m. Monday at M.A.C. Center. Season-ticket holders can pick up free tickets at the ticket office during the day or before the game. All other tickets are $10.
Audio starts at about 6:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. Jacob Pavilack does play-by-play.
Video is through ESPN+, which costs $4.99 a month and includes all tournament games except the women’s finals and the men’s semifinals and finals, which are broadcast elsewhere. ESPN+ also televises some other league tournaments. You can watch it through your cable or satellite company, on your computer or the ESPN app. Click on the link, and it will guide you on how to pay. David Wilson and Henry Palattella are the announcers.
Live statistics are available through the Kent State website.
MAC Tournament Central, including brackets and Quicken Loans Arena ticket information for both men and women, along with information on free student tickets and bus rides to games in Cleveland.
Preview from Kent State women’s website, including links to statistics, roster and more.
Detailed media notes for Kent State.
Preview from Bowling Green website, including links.
Detailed media notes for Bowling Green.
Final MAC conference-game statistics, including link to full-season stats.