Arena at Thursday halftime warmup, when attendance was announced at 120. At the start of Friday game, I counted — literally counted — 49 people in the stands. (wbbFlashes photo.)
Twice this season Kent State has won games in the last minute. A third game went to overtime (KSU won).
But in Las Vegas Friday, the last-minute rally went the other way as Troy pulled out a victory over the Flashes 71-64.
Kent State had led for almost the entire game, but Troy used a pressure defense to rally in the fourth quarter.
With the score tied 64-64 and 19 seconds to play, Troy senior forward Japonica James stepped between Kent players who weren’t more more three feet apart on an inbounds pass in front of the Kent bench. She tipped the ball, then grabbed it and drove the length of the court for a layup. She was fouled and made the free throw.
“She shot the gap,” KSU coach Todd Starkey said. “A really good player made a great play.”
“They just jumped it,” said senior Megan Carter, who was inbounding the ball.
On the next possession, the Flashes got the ball to forward Nila Blackford, who looked to have a clear path to the basket. But she traveled as she went up for a layup.
The loss at the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic leaves the Flashes’ record at 6-4.
Troy is 9-2. Its RPI, a ranking system based on record and schedule strength, is now 59th of 351 teams. That’s higher than any team in the MAC. The Troy radio announcer called the win the team’s biggest of the season.
Starkey was far more upbeat after the loss than he was about the team’s 62-48 win over 2-7 Georgia Southern on Thursday.
“I thought we played a really good basketball game,” the coach said. “I thought we showed incredible toughness against a really good Troy team.
“We kind of gave that game away. Their pressure was intense, so we obviously needed to take care of the ball the way we needed to.
“We learned that we need to execute down the stretch, show our composure a little bit — and understand that we’re a really good basketball team when we play with that kind of intensity.”
The Flashes took an 8-5 lead six minutes into the game and led for the next 33 minutes.
But in the fourth quarter, Troy went to a full-court press, and the Flashes has seven turnovers in the last four minutes and got off just four shots. The Trojans ended the game on a 14-2 run.
“They amped up their defense, but I think we just got careless,” Carter said. ‘We weren’t managing our possessions well.”
Kent State, which hadn’t played in 11 days before the Las Vegas tournament, is now off another 10 for Christmas. The Flashes will play their last non-conference game against Hiram on Dec. 30 at the M.A.C. Center, then start MAC play the next week.
“We gotta keep our heads up,” she said. “It’s one loss. We should have had this game, but you can’t dwell on the past. It’s learn from it and take that anger that we should have won and put it on the next opponent.”
- Troy leads the country in offensive rebounding at 25 a game. It had 11, its lowest of the season, against Kent State. The Flashes had 12 offensive rebounds. “If we can play with that kind of intensity, we can rebound with anybody,” Starkey said. “If you can rebound with Troy, you can rebound with anybody.”
- Total rebounding was 40-28 Troy.
- Carter led Kent State with 24 points, her high for the season. She also had three assists against two turnovers and a steal. Carter ran the offense for most of the game, even when point guard Asiah Dingle was on the court. Dingle sat out 12 minutes with foul trouble.
- Freshman Katie Shumate had her first double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds (‘phenomenal,” Starkey said). Blackford had 11 points and seven rebounds.
- The Flashes took their most 3-point shots of the season — 33 — and made 10. Carter made four of 11, Shumate four of seven.
- Troy scored 23 point off of 18 turnovers, KSU’s second highest total of the year The Flashes scored 13 points off of 19 turnovers. Going into the fourth quarter, points off turnovers were even at 11-11.
- Troy, which is fourth in Division I in foul shots made, outscored Kent State 20-10 from the free-throw line. The Flashes had averaged 20 points a game from foul shots in its six wins.
- Monique Smith, Clare Kelly, Sydney Brinlee and Ali Poole all played more than nine minutes. That’s about as much as Kent has used its bench this season. Poole, a starter last year who has been fighting a knee injury since summer, played 15 minutes, her most of the season. The reserves, however, scored only two points on a basket by Smith.
- Kent’s shooting percentage was 34,4, about 5 points below its average. The Flashes shot only 23% in that disastrous fourth quarter. Troy’s shooting percentage was 39.7% and 50% in the fourth quarter.
- KSU had 12 assists on 22 baskets. Dingle had four and Carter three.
- The 71-64 score was exactly the same as Troy’s victory over Toledo on Thursday.
The view from Troy
Coach Chanda Coach Rigby quoted on Troy’s website
“We were down for the pretty much the whole game and every time we would score, they would score. Finally, we broke it down to two and one point deficits but couldn’t never get over that hump. Other than that, the first score of the game, James’ layup was the first lead we had.”
On the late game rally
“I can’t say enough about our senior leadership. Kayla’s been in these battles for four years and she’s hungry. She’s been coming off the bench for us and has been playing her role fantastic.
“I can’t say enough about Japonica either. She couldn’t get going the entire tournament. She couldn’t get anything except fouls called against her but she kept her spirit up and made the play of the game for us.”