The 2018-19 Flashes in the huddle.
It’s crazy late to be writing a season wrap-up, but once the WNIT ended, I had school and family matters that I had put off at end of the season.
So in my annual format, here are numbers that told the story of Kent State’s season.
Kent State’s 20-13 record was its first 20-win season in eight years. It was also only their second winning season in that time; both have come in coach Todd Starkey’s three years in Kent. It included KSU’s first postseason win in 23 years, a 64-59 victory over Green Bay in the WNIT.
During the last week of the regular season, Starkey made the case that this year’s team accomplished as much as the 19-13 MAC East champion team his first season. That season — when he coached the same roster that had gone 6-23 the year before and was picked to finish last in the conference — was little short of magic.
But this year’s team was pretty special. It had lost three starters, including Jordan Korinek, one of the best players in KSU history. It had lost 69 percent of its scoring and 65 percent of its minutes played.
Yet the 2018-19 team won seven more games and scored more points than the previous season.
Starkey and his staff recruited one of the best freshman classes in school history. Asiah Dingle (13 points per game), Lindsay Thall (10 ppg), Mariah Modkins (3) and Hannah Young (3) scored 45 percent of Kent’s points this season. That was the third highest percentage in the country. (First was Alabama State at 79 percent. Second was Winthrop at 47 percent.)
Dingle and Thall made the MAC all-freshman team, the first time in 11 years any Flash had made the team and the third time more than one player had done so.
The only freshman class in the same category as this one was Bob Lindsay’s first set of recruits in 1990-91. That group included included Tracey Lynn and Kathy Carroll, both of whom went on to be 1,000-point scorers and Michelle Burden, KSU’s all-time leader in assists. Their team, however, won three fewer games than this year’s.
That’s how many more points redshirt junior Megan Carter scored than she did in 2017-18. Part of that was because Carter missed the first semester that season with academic problems. But Carter was wildly inconsistent her sophomore year. She scored more than 20 points twice, more than 12 eight times — and fewer than 10 points 12 times.
This season she led KSU in scoring in 19 of the team’s 33 games. She scored more than 20 nine times and fewer than 10 just five times. Part of her increased scoring was that Korinek’s 20 points a game weren’t around, but Carter’s consistency was a major factor in KSU’s season.
91 steals and 250 rebounds
Alexa Golden and Merissa Barber-Smith, Kent State’s only seniors, had their best seasons.
Golden started for four years, but this season was special. Her 91 steals were the fifth most in school history and highest since 2000. She was among MAC leaders in steals, rebounds, 3-point percentage and minutes played. She led the team in taking 19 charges. After anchoring KSU’s defense for four years, she finally was named to the league’s all-defensive team.
Kent State played its best basketball of the season over its last nine games. Not coincidentally, Barber-Smith played the best of her career then. The 6-4 center averaged 11 rebounds a game over those games and had her first double-double with 20 rebounds and 10 points against Bowling Green. She led the Flashes in rebounding at 7.6 per game despite playing only the sixth highest number of minutes on the team. Jay Fiorello, the assistant sports communication director for women’s basketball, liked to figure her rebounds per minute: It was 18.04, sixth highest in Division I.
62.5 points per game
That’s how many the Flashes allowed opponents this season and the fewest Kent State has given up since 2010-11.
I remember Starkey saying before the season started that he thought the team would be much improved offensively and would likely have to win some games by simply outscoring the opponent.
It turned out quite the opposite. The Flashes ranked third in the MAC in points allowed, first in field goal defense, first in blocked shots and second in steals. They held opponents under 60 points 14 times and won 13 of those games.
Golden said the team just bought into defense more than in previous years. The Flashes also were more athletic; the quick hands of Dingle and Modkins gave opposing point guards much difficulty. Golden herself had at least four steals in 12 games. Thall, who showed great defensive timing, led the league in blocked shots. Barber-Smith was fifth in blocks and Golden 25th.
Plus-2.73 in turnovers
Kent State had a positive turnover margin for the first time in at least eight years. Usually, KSU has been near the bottom of the league. This season it was third.
Thank the steals by Golden, Dingle et al. KSU didn’t particular decrease its own turnovers; the Flashes just forced a lot more from their opponents.
241 3-point baskets
That’s a new Kent State team record for a season. Last year the Flashes made 146.
Leading the way was Thall, whose 66 3-pointers were the third highest in Kent State history and second highest for a freshman. She made 40 percent of her shots behind the arc for the season, third in the MAC. In conference games, she made 45.8 percent, more than 4 percentage points ahead of the second-place player and 7 points above the third.
Golden was second in Kent State 3-pointers with 47, Poole third with 46 and Carter fourth with 41. All of those numbers, plus Thall’s, would have led the team in 2017-18.
As a team, Kent State made 32.9 percent of its 3-point shots. In the 13 games the Flashes lost, they made 26.9 percent.
308th in 2-point shooting
Now some less happy numbers.
There are 351 Division I teams. Kent State’s shooting percentage on 2-point baskets was 39.5, which ranked 308th. The national average on 2-pointers was 43.9 percent.
Kent State shot above the national average just three times in 33 games.
How did that happen? The Flashes had no real post threat for high percentage baskets. Forwards Thall, Ali Poole and Barber-Smith averaged fewer than two 2-point baskets a game. Only Thall had a 2-point shooting percentage above the national average, and that was by 0.1 percentage point. She did show more post moves as the season went on, but she was best known as KSU’s top 3-point threat. Poole had played guard until this season. Barber-Smith had never been a scorer, even in high school.
The numbers aren’t available online, but the Flashes missed a ton of layups throughout the season. Dingle’s game, which made a huge difference to the team this season, is based on drives to the basket. But she spent all season learning that if she doesn’t pick her spots well, college players and college defenses can stop her. Lots of other players — guards and forward — struggled within three feet of the basket.
311th in assists
Even less good. Kent State averaged 10.6 assists per game, 311th in Division I. The Flashes had assists on 48.1 percent of their baskets, according to HerHoopStats, an analytics service. That was 316th in the country.
Part of what makes Carter and Dingle good is the ability to create their own shots, but doing so got well out of hand. At point guard, Dingle had an assist/turnover ratio of 0.78. Carter, who played shooting guard and some point, had a ratio of 0.7. Average for all players in the country was 0.82, and guards usually have the best ratios. League champion Central Michigan had a team ratio of 1.25. The league individual leader was Eastern Michigan freshman point guard Jenna Annecchiarico at 2.1. (Dingle also thoroughly outplayed her in two head-to-head matchups.)
Kent State’s passing offense seemed to get better as the season went along, and coaches stressed it on practice. I suspect they’ll be stressing it a lot more over the summer.
Points returning: 83.6 percent
KSU’s top four scorers (Carter, Dingle, Thall and Poole) return next season.
I didn’t have the patience to figure it for all MAC teams, but the only other MAC team close to that has to be Ohio, which also returns four starters plus an injured player who started two years ago.
The Flashes have a great deal to build on for 2019-2020. They had four freshmen among their top eight players this season and three incoming recruits whom Starkey called “can’t miss” prospects when they signed letters of intent.
I will do another post on the outlook for next season, probably in May. (I’m leaving for a two-week vacation on Friday.) But a quick summary:
- All of that scoring is back.
- This year’s freshmen should be better.
- The incoming freshman averaged a total of about 55 point a game in their senior years. 6-foot forward Nila Blackford was first-team all-state in Kentucky and a finalist for the state’s Miss Basketball. 5-9 guard Clare Kelly of Olmsted Falls has a reputation as one of the finest shooters in the state — especially from 3-point distance. Starkey calls 5-11 guard Katie Shumate one of the best defensive and rebounding guards in Ohio. She and Kelly were second-team all-state. Shumate was district player of the year.
- The team will have all summer to work on shooting and on passing. Remember, much of this team has played together only for a season.
- Besides improving shooting and assists, the biggest task will be to replace rebounding, where Barber-Smith and Golden led the team.
I’m most definitely looking forward to next season.
Comings and goings and other updates
JUNIOR GUARD JESSICA WALLIS AND SOPHOMORE CENTER AMANDA SAPE have left the team. Wallis is transferring; Sape is dropping off the squad to focus on academics.
Neither played significant minutes in their time at Kent State. Sape had a strong high school record but hurt her shoulder before she she got to Kent. Wallis was a junior college transfer last season and has had a tough collegiate career. Her junior college team was an extremely competitive powerhouse, and she saw little time on the court. At Kent State, she was behind a strong mix of guards.
That leaves the Flashes with two more scholarships available for next season, but Starkey said in a Record-Courier interview that he might hold them until the 2020 recruiting class. He could bring in graduate transfers who would be eligible to play immediately or traditional transfers, who would have to sit out a season. Getting a top-flight high school recruit this late would be unusual; most sign in November.
MIAMI COACH MEGAN DUFFY left the school to become head coach at Marquette. She was 44-20 in two seasons with the Redhawks after taking over a program that had finished last in the MAC East in 2016-17. Her replacement is DeUnna Hendrix, who had been head coach at High Point University in North Carolina for seven years. She had a 89-43 record there.
The Miami coaching change was the only one in the MAC. Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack was reported to be a finalist for the head coaching jobs at Penn State and Georgia Tech. She signed a five-year extension with the Bulls today.
KSU’s ALEXA GOLDEN AND ALI POOLE were both named to the MAC’S all-academic team.
Golden has a 3.96 GPA in graduate school in sport and recreation management. She earned her bachelor’s degree in just two years at Kent State and will get her master’s degree in May. There are strong rumblings she’ll be back with the women’s team as a graduate assistant next season, when she would start on another graduate degree.
Poole has a 3.73 GPA in biology. It’s her second straight year on the all-academic team and Golden’s third straight. Freshmen and first-year junior college transfers aren’t eligible, nor are players who saw action in fewer than half of their team’s games. That left KSU with only four eligible players this season.
ALLEN MOFF OF THE RECORD-COURIER had a nice season wrap-up story on the women’s team, including lots of quotes from Starkey. Here’s the link.