Nila Blackford makes a short jumper against Akron in photo shot from catwalk above the James. A. Rhodes Arena. Blackford had 10 points and nine rebounds but was hurt late in the game. (Photo from KSU Twitter feed.)
17 seconds in the fourth quarter showed how important Lindsey Thall was to the Kent State’s 60-55 victory over Akron Wednesday.
With 1:56 to go, Thall blocked a layup attempt by Akron. 11 seconds later Hannah Young grabbed an offensive rebound and passed to Thall, who was probably six feet beyond the 3-point arc. She hit the shot smoothly to give KSU a 54-53 lead.
35 seconds in the third quarter showed how important Asiah Dingle was to the win. Akron had outscored Kent 12-3 to start the third quarter and take its biggest lead at 40-33.
With 4:48 to go in the quarter, Dingle passed to Nila Blackford near the basket for a layup. On the next possession, Dingle stole the ball and drove three-quarters of the court for a layup. Then she stole the inbounds pass for another layup.
Dingle came off the bench to lead KSU with 15 points and four steals.
Thall had seven points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots.
“There were a lot of crazy plays down the stretch — a lot of intensity out there,” coach Todd Starkey said. “In that last time out, we brought them over and said, ‘Wd’ve got to be the calmer, more composed team. We’ve got to get stops and keep them off the offensive glass. And they did a really good job in the last two or three minutes doing just that.”
Thall’s 3-point basket was the first of those plays. The second was a steal by Blackford off of a press on Akron’s next possession, which led to the third, a driving layup by Dingle on a fast break. She was fouled and converted the three-point play and Kent State had a 57-53 lead.
On Thall’s 3-pointer:
“I was just trying to be aggressive and get the rebound,” Young said. “And then I saw Lindsey and I was like, ‘I’ve got to get it to her.'”
On Blackford’s steal:
“We wanted to look for opportunities to press,” Starkey said. “After Lindsey’s 3, we called time out and pressed out of that and got a turnovers. We had back-to-back presses off of made baskets, which we don’t usually do, and I think it caught them by surprise.”
On Dingle’s three-point play:
“A bang-bang play and she finished,” Starkey said.
And what about Dingle’s back-to-back steals in the third quarter that got Kent State back in the game:
“That was huge — a huge turnaround for us,” Starkey said. “It gave us some life.
“Sometimes she drives me a little bit crazy, just playing with her hair on fire. But she has the ability to make big plays like that when you let her loose.”
Dingle said she knew the team needed a boost.
“Coach talked about not getting down…getting a pinch and just keep going,” she said. “So I recognized the play they ran and got the steals.”
It was the third straight game the Flashes had relied on their defense to carry them. The team is 2-1 in that stretch despite averaging only 59 points in that time. They allowed an average of 55 in that time.
“Our defense has been our calling card lately,” Starkey said. “The beginning of the year, it was just the opposite.
“But we have to figure out a way to score the basketball. Thall’s 3 was so big for us because we couldn’t throw it in the ocean again. It might be the time of the year. The legs are getting tired and we’ve been missing some open looks that we didn’t miss earlier in the year.”
Kent State was three for 14 from 3-point distance. Over their last three games, the Flashes are 12 for 53 for 22.6%.
The Flashes also struggled for the third straight game on free throws (11 of 21) and turnovers (18 to Akron’s 12). Not long ago they were among the MAC leaders in both categories.
“We should have scored in the 70s,” Starkey said for the second game in a row. “We have to become a better team at not beating ourselves. Once again, defense bailed us out, but we have to be more efficient with the ball on our hands, and we’ve got to score at a higher clip.”
Thall the shot blocker
Thall leads the conference, averaging 2.6 blocks in MAC games. That’s one block a game more than last year, when she also led the league.
Her five blocks were her second highest of the season (she blocked seven against Eastern Michigan). She’s blocked four or more six times this year.
Thall is 6-2 but not a great leaper. KSU radio announcer David Wilson asked her about her rebounding strategy after the game:
“I just for areas where I can help off of my player,” she said. “If they’re not in a really threatening position offensively, I can kind of sneak off and help our guards out when their players get to the hoop.”
Starkey called Thall “just a really smart defender.”
“She tracks the ball,” he said. “She plays great position defense, and she leaves the floor second, which all great shot blockers do.”
Young the defender
Young played 27 minutes for the second straight game. She had six rebounds and four points. She was guarding Alyssa Clay, Akron’s top 3-point-shooting-guard, when Kent State led by three points in the last minute.
“”Hannah did a great job of making sure she understood some of the actions that they run to try and get her open,” Starkey said. “She did a great job of chasing her and talking early when she needed help.”
Young said she knew it was important not to let Clay get away from her.
“I knew that if I did help off of her (to guard another player), they would kick out to her, and she’s going to shoot it right away,” she said.
Young said defense has helped her get playing time.
“I’ve been working on it practice,” she said. “In the beginning of the season, it wasn’t very great, and if I wanted to play more, I needed it to get better. It’s been working, so I’m gonna just keep trying to play aggressive.”
Starkey agrees that she’s playing better each game.
“She’s showed up at the right time of year and played some big minutes for us, making some big plays. I think as she continues to grow in her confidence, she’ll continue to be a contributor for us.”
Blackford’s hard fall
Blackford, the 6-2 freshman who is KSU’s leading scorer and rebounder, had 10 points and nine rebounds.
She got tangled with an Akron player going for a rebound in the last 30 seconds and hit the floor hard. She lay on the court until referees stopped play, then lay there another 30 seconds before she was helped off the court.
“She went down pretty hard, and she was hurting there a little bit,” Starkey told Wilson on the radio. “We’ll see what the trainers say and get her evaluated.”
The battle for fourth place
The win puts Kent State in a tie with Toledo for fifth in the MAC, a half game out of fourth place. The top four teams get a first-round bye to the quarterfinals in the MAC tournament next month.
Kent State and Toledo play Saturday at about 3:30 p.m. at the M.A.C. Center. The game is the second of a doubleheader with the men, who play Ohio at 1 p.m.
The Flashes and Toledo are 6-5. Eastern Michigan is 7-5. Toledo lost at home to Ball State 60-58 on Wednesday. Eastern won at Bowling Green 70-58.
Third place is starting to look out of reach for any of those teams. Ohio and Ball State are tied at 8-3. Central Michigan continues to lead the league at 11-0.
Kent State’s overall record is 13-9. Akron is 3-8 in the MAC and 10-12 overall. Seven of its eight losses have been by eight points or fewer.
- The Flashes held Akron to 37% shooting, the third-straight game opponents have shot below 40%. Akron was two of 18 (11%) on 3-point shots. Three games ago, Kent State opponents had been making 45% of their 3-pointers. Bowling Green, Ohio and Akron made 10 of 42 from distance — 24%.
- Kent State assistant coach Mike McKee wasn’t on the bench because of the death of his father Tuesday. McKee has been a part of Kent State basketball for 15 years, playing for the men’s team, then being a graduate assistant and director of basketball operations for the men before becoming a women’s assistant three years ago. “This one is for the McKee family,” Starkey said.
- Akron’s forward Jordyn Dawson, the Zips’ second-leading scorer, didn’t play. “Coaches’ decision.” according to Michael Reghi, who broadcast the game on ESPN+. (“Coaches decision” often means a suspension of some sort.)
- Kent State has won four straight against the Akron women and six out of seven under Starkey. The teams meet again in Kent Feb. 26.
Other MAC scores
- Eastern Michigan (7-5, 12-11) 70, Bowling Green (1-10, 8-15) 58 at BG.
- Ball State (8-3, 16-7) 60, Toledo (6-5, 11-11) 58 at Toledo.
- Western Michigan (5-6, 12-10) 74, Buffalo 62 at Western.
- Northern Illinois (4-7, 8-14) 86, Miami 84 in overtime at NIU.
Central Michigan and Ohio had midweek byes.