A really big game: Kent State and Ohio battle for 3rd Wednesday at M.A.C.C.

Dingle calls play

Coach Todd Starkey and point guard Asiah Dingle call out plays against Akron. (File photo by Greta Bell from team website.)

Ohio (10-6 and tied for 3rd in MAC. 17-10 overall)

At Kent State (10-6 and tied for 3rd. 17-10 overall)

Game starts at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 4, at the M.A.C. Center.

General admission tickets are $5. Students get in free with a Kent State ID. KSU’s average home attendance is 1,855, third in the MAC and Kent State’s highest in decades.

What’s at stake

Perhaps the biggest game of the season for Kent State.

Ohio had big games earlier, but Bobcats are fighting for their season after losing three games in a row.

The teams are tied for third in the MAC with two regular seasons to go. The top four teams get a bye to the quarterfinals at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse (formerly Quicken Loans Arena) in Cleveland next Wednesday. The other eight teams play first-round games on campus Monday. At this time of year, the extra rest is a big deal. And, of course, you can’t lose if you don’t have to play.

Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan are a game behind Kent and Ohio. They play Wednesday, too. So at the end of the night, the Western-Eastern winner will be tied for fourth with the KSU-Ohio loser.

The winner of the KSU-Ohio game also will clinch a share of the East Division title. I don’t emphasize that as much because it doesn’t affect tournament seedings at all.

On Feb. 8, Ohio beat Kent State 63-57 in Athens. Kent State led 37-31 at halftime but committed 12 turnovers in the second half and shot only 29% Biggest problem, however, was that the Flashes made only two foul shots the entire game, their lowest total in five years. They missed six. Ohio was 16 of 21.

Kent State had led the MAC in foul shooting in non-conference play but averaged only seven made free throws for five games in the middle of the conference season. Over the last three games, they’ve averaged 21 points from the foul line, though they missed 18 of their 46 free throws in their win over Miami.

In their preseason poll, MAC coaches unanimously predicted the Bobcats would win the regular season and tournament title. Ohio returned four starters from a team that was 30-5 last season. Earlier in the season, OU lost to first-place Central Michigan twice by two points and lost by one at Western Michigan.

In their last three games, the Bobcats have lost at seventh-place Akron 79-76, at last-place Bowling Green 82-68 and lost at home to seventh-place Buffalo 63-62.

There is really no pattern; Ohio lost all three games in different ways. Leading scorer Erica Johnson’s has struggled shooting (36%) but still averaged 15 points a game. Second-leading scorer Cece Hooks, though, has averaged, has averaged 24, including a school-record 41 against Akron.


REPORT CARD ON KSU’s 96-86 WIN OVER BOWLING GREEN: It took two overtimes and five players scoring in double figures.


The word from the coach

“We’ve been a work in progress, and we still are,” coach Todd Starkey told Allen Moff of the Record-Courier this week. “We’re finding ways to win basketball games. We still haven’t played a complete game yet. I think that elusive best game is still out there.

“But we’ve come a long way in a lot of areas, defensively especially. We’ve become a more versatile team, and we’ve gotten better at figuring out what lineups work together.

“It’s been different people stepping up every game — Katie (Shumate) and Megan (Carter) last game, Megan and Lindsey (Thall) the game before that.

“Asiah (Dingle) has been consistent over the last three weeks, finishing better. It makes us difficult to play against because you can’t just take away one or two players. We’ve got multiple people that can hurt you.”

Full Record-Courier preview.

What to watch

The most obvious is whether Kent State is scoring at the foul line. Two free throws aren’t going to win many games.

Second is turnovers. Ohio leads the MAC in turnover margin by a wide margin. The Bobcats outscored KSU 14-4 off turnovers in the second half in Athens, more than their margin of victory. Kent commits the second-fewest turnovers in the league (Ohio is first).

Third is 3-point shooting. Kent State made 11 of 24 (46%) against Bowling Green. But in their previous six games, the Flashes averaged 26%. Ohio shoots and makes more 3-pointers than any team in the MAC except Central Michigan.

Kent State’s defense has been excellent in the second half of the conference season. BG’s 86 points Saturday is misleading; the Falcons scored 72 in regulation.

The 63 points Ohio scored against KSU in Athens were 13 points below the Bobcats’ averages and their second-lowest total of the season. (Lowest was 62 in Saturday’s loss to Buffalo.)

Ohio’s guards are still the two leading scorers in the MAC in conference games. Sophomore Erica Johnson averages 20.9 points a game and junior Cece Hooks averages 20.7. Hooks tied the school record of 41 points against Akron.

“Their style of play is unique in the league,” Starkey told the Record-Courier. “They spread you out, have great playmakers and passers, then they pressure you into turnovers. You’ve got to really be careful of live ball turnovers that lead to scores, which kind of got us in the first game.”

Team comparisons

All statistics are for conference games only, which are more current and reflect similar competition.

  • RPI: Kent State 100 of 351 Division I teams. Ohio 87. (RPI is based on a team’s record and schedule strength.)
  • Power rankings: Kent State 106. Ohio 88. (Adds factors like margin of victory, record in recent games, injuries.)
  • Kent State home record (MAC games): 6-2 Ohio road record: 4-4.
  • Scoring average: KSU fifth in MAC at 68.9 points per game. Ohio second at 76.4.
  • Defensive average: KSU third at 66.1. Ohio seventh at 70.0.
  • Field-goal percentage: KSU 10th at 40.4 (eighth on 3-pointers at 31.1%). Ohio 11th at 44.2 (third on 3s at 33.2%).
  • Field-goal defense: KSU third at 38.4 (last on 3s at 37.0%). Ohio ninth at 42.5 (seventh on 3s at 32.8).
  • Free throw shooting: Kent State seventh at 68.5%. Ohio 10th at 65.9%.
  • Rebounding margin: KSU seventh at -1.2. Ohio 11th at -3.8.
  • Turnover margin: KSU fourth at +1.8. Ohio first at +8.-0. KSU sixth in steals at 6.9, Ohio first at 11.0.
  • Assists: Kent State 11th at 10.7. Ohio 10th at 11.0.
  • Blocked shots: Kent State first at 4.3. Ohio eighth at 2.0.

Top players

Kent State

  • 5-4 sophomore guard Asiah Dingle (14.6 points, third in MAC in field-goal percentage at 53.1%, fifth in MAC in steals at 2.1. 2.6 assists).
  • 5-11 freshman guard Katie Shumate (13.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, third in 3-point percentage at 42.3; eighth in field-goal percentage at 45.9).
  • 6-2 freshman forward Nila Blackford (12.1 points, eighth in MAC at 8.2 rebounds).
  • 5-7 senior guard Megan Carter (12.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.5 steals). KentWired, the online outlet of the Kent Stater, did a nice feature on Carter this week.
  • 6-2 sophomore forward Lindsey Thall (10.7 points, 1.8 three-point baskets a game, first in MAC in blocked shots at 2.6 per game).

Ohio

  • 5-11 sophomore guard Erica Johnson (first in MAC at 20.9 points, 42.6% shooting, fifth in 3-point shooting at 40.7%, sixth in assists at 3.8, 7.3 rebounds, seventh in steals at 1.9).
  • 5-8 junior guard Cece Hooks (second in MAC at 20.7 points, eighth in field-goal percentage at 45.1%, first in steals at 4.0, ninth in assists at 3.2, 5.7 rebounds).
  • 5-9 senior guard Amani Burke (12.3 points, 1.5 steals, 4.7 rebounds.)
  • 5-11 junior forward Gabby Burris (9.4 points, 6.1 rebounds).

Following the game from home

Video stream on ESPN+ starts at game time at 7 p.m. Service costs $4.99 a month and includes about half of all MAC men’s and women’s games. It will include all men’s and women’s MAC Tournament games except those broadcast on network TV. This link takes you to to the game, where you can sign up. David Wilson and Ben Pagani are the announcers.

Audio starts at about 6:45 p.m. on WHLO 640 and Golden Flash iHeart Radio. Dan Griffin is the announcer.

Live statistics will be on the Kent State website during the game.

Links

Kent State website, with links to roster, statistics, schedule and more.

Ohio website, with links.

MAC statistics.

MAC standings.

 

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