With seven minutes of absolutely overpowering defense at the end of the second half, Butler ended Kent State’s season Saturday with a 70-52 win in the second round of the WNIT.
Kent led 14-8 when Butler’s Tori Schickel scored on an inside move. On the next possession, Merissa Barber-Smith‘s shot close to the basket was blocked. Alexa Golden got the offensive rebound; her putback was blocked.
The Flashes didn’t get a shot off for the last six minutes of the half.
Butler pressed, it trapped, it stepped into passing lanes. The Bulldogs forced Kent State into seven turnovers and made nine of its own 11 shots. Many were layups off turnovers, but Butler made 4-of-4 three-point baskets.
Asiah Dingle broke Butler’s 16-0 run with two foul shots, but Kristen Spolyar hit a 3-pointer 13 seconds later. Butler forced another turnover, and Whitney Jennings banked in the 3-point shot at the buzzer.
It was 30-16. Kent never got closer.
“We knew it was coming,” coach Todd Starkey said. “We tried to prepare for it. But when you have less than 48 hours to prepare for a team with a defensive scheme like then, it’s difficult. It’s difficult to simulate what they’re going to see.
“Obviously we didn’t handle the pressure very well. We got the ball into areas of the floor that we had talked about not getting it into, and they just kind of swarmed us.”
Golden, who played her last game in a Kent State uniform, put it colorfully.
“We just kind of lost our minds a little bit,” she said. “That kind of explains it.”
Golden had 11 points and eight rebounds. Dingle led the Flashes with 13 points, three assists and three steals.
The Flashes held Butler to 3-of-14 shooting for the first 13 minutes of the game.
Then the Bulldogs made 22-of-32 — 69 percent — for the rest of the game. They made 8-of 12 three-point shots in that span — 67 percent.
Butler’s season average on field goals is 42.3 percent. Its average on 3-pointers is 29.8. Guard Katie Spolyar had been making 26 percent of her shots from beyond the arc. Saturday she made 4-of-5.
Kent made 33 percent of their 48 field-goal attempts and 27 percent of their 3-point shots.
“We got good looks,” Starkey said. “We’re 8-for-30 from the 3-point line, and I thought 25 were really good looks. Shot that usually fall for players just didn’t go down.”
The coach said his team was tired.
“It’s a really tough, tough travel week for us,” he said. “We flew to Milwaukee (leaving at 4 a.m. Tuesday), then up to Green Bay by bus.
Right after the game, the team took the bus to a hotel in Milwaukee, then climbed back the bus on for the trip to Indianapolis. That’s all in five days.
Butler, Starkey said, “just had more energy than we did, especially at that point that they kind of flipped the switch.”
“We didn’t have a switch to flip. There wasn’t any reserve tank to go to.”
Butler played both of its WNIT games at home.
The players and Starkey looked back at the season with pride.
“Everybody counted us out from the beginning because we had such a young team,” Golden said, “and I think we’ve proved to everybody that we could compete with the best of them. I think people should watch out for Kent State next year.”
Starkey said his team — which had five freshmen and two junior college transfers on its 14-player roster — “continued to get better throughout the season.”
“We talked early about us wanting to be playing our best basketball in February and March,” Starkey said. “I think that absolutely happened. I thought we probably were one of the best teams in the MAC down the stretch.
“So there’s a lot to really build off of and a lot to be proud of.”
Redshirt junior guard Megan Carter summed it up the way:
“I’m very proud of this team and what we are able to do. We just wanted to play. I’m very proud to see the freshmen coming in and adapting to the culture of this program. We did a very good job.”
Goodbye to Alexa and Merissa
Golden and Barber-Smith played their last game.
“They’ve given so much to Kent State,” Starkey said.”I love both of them like daughters.
“Alexa has to be one of the toughest, most dedicated players I’ve coached in 21 years. She’s given everything; she’s given limbs and joints to this program.”
Golden played through injuries every season, and, Starkey said earlier, “may have the NCAA record in ice packs used over four years.”
Barber-Smith played her best basketball of her career over the last month of the season, averaging more than 13 rebounds a game in that time. It was a long road for the 6-4 senior. She came from a tough background and, between her junior and senior years, she had a baby.
“I’ll be more proud of Marissa when she walks across the stage and gets her degree then of anything she’s done the court,” Starkey said.
Golden said she accomplished much of what she had hoped in her four years.
“They were struggling in the years before,” she said, blinking back tears. “I wanted to be in the class that came in and turned it around. When coach Starkey came in, we really trusted him, and he believed in us.”
Carter was in the same recruiting class with Barber-Smith and Golden, but was injured in the third game of her freshman year and was redshirted.
“I’m going to miss them tremendously,” she said. “I’m going to try to spend as much time with them as I can before they go off and venture off to their new lives.”
Golden may not venture far. It’s not official yet, but she’s very likely to be a graduate assistant on next year’s coaching staff.
- Kent State finishes the season 20-13, the first time the Flashes have won 20 since 2010-11. The team’s win over Green Bay in the WNIT was the second postseason victory in school history. The first came 23 years ago, when the Flashes beat Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
- After making 14 turnovers in the first half, KSU had only four in the second. Butler scores 20 off of them in the game. Kent scored 11 off of 18 Butler turnovers.
- Whitney Jennings led the Bulldogs with 23 points. Spolyar had 22 and and Schickel 12, plus 11 rebounds.
- Five Butler players finished the game with four fouls. Kent’s Dingle fouled out.
- Butler advances to play Cincinnati or Minnesota, who play Sunday.
Other MAC teams in the postseason
- No. 10 seed Buffalo beat No. 7 Rutgers 82-71 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls will play No. 2 Connecticut, the most dominant team in women’s basketball over the last decade, on Sunday.
- No. 8 Central Michigan (25-8) fell to No. 9 Michigan State (21-11) 88-87, giving up the winning driving layup with seven seconds left. A Central jumper that would have won game missed at the buzzer.
Saturday games in the WNIT
- Northwestern (17-14) at Toledo (21-11).
- Middle Tennessee State (23-10) at Ohio (28-5).
- Western Kentucky 67 (18-14), Miami (23-8) 63 in the first round of WNIT.
- Tennessee Tech (22-10) 73, Akron 59 (16-15) in first round of Women’s Basketball Invitational.