The Flashes after practice at Rocket Mortgage Arena Tuesday. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)
There may be almost no one in the stands watching Wednesday, but the Kent State women’s basketball team has a big challenge in its MAC Tournament quarterfinal game with Buffalo.
The MAC announced late Tuesday afternoon that, as Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine had asked earlier in the day, attendance would be restricted to media, players’ families and school and tournament officials to help contain the coronavirus outbreak. Details on the MAC statement.
Kent State and other MAC teams are already in Cleveland and practiced Tuesday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse (formerly Quicken Loans Arena), the 19,000-seat home of the Cleveland Cavaliers and site of the tournament.
All tournament games will be broadcast or streamed on ESPN+, the CBS Sports Channel (men’s semifinals and women’s finals) and ESPN2 (men’s finals). Details on how to get ESPN+ are below.
KSU-Buffalo: Chapter 3
The Flashes finished two spots ahead of Buffalo in the regular season but lost twice to the Bulls, once by 13 points, once by 14. Buffalo knocked Kent State out of the tournament in the quarterfinals last year and the year before. Buffalo’s teams then were the best in school history. Both won at least one game in the NCAA tournament. The 2017-18 team reached the Sweet 16.
This year’s games were not quite as bad as the scores. The Flashes led the game in Kent by four points going into the fourth quarter. But they were plagued by turnovers and hot Buffalo shooting in the fourth in a 57-44 loss. Kent State lost to the Bulls Saturday 72-58 in Buffalo in a game that meant nothing to the Flashes’ tournament seeding. The Bulls could have had as low as a ninth seed if they had lost, so their incentive was strong.
The individual matchups are tough ones for the Flashes. The Bulls’ trademark is hard defense and rebounding, where they lead the conference in rebounding margin (+4.4 per game), offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds. They outrebounded Kent State 47-34 Saturday, though KSU outrebounded them 41-40 in February. Kent’s average rebounding margin is -1.8.
The Bulls also have guard Dyaisha Fair, the newly named MAC freshman of the year. She averages 21.5 points a game, fourth in the country. She scored 25 against KSU Saturday and 17 in February.
“Buffalo is just super aggressive — relentless,” said KSU senior Megan Carter, who will be playing the Bulls for the 10th time in her career. “They just crash the board. And Dyaisha Fair. She’s like a walking bucket.”
All of these interviews were conducted Monday before the MAC announced fans wouldn’t be in attendance.
Kent State is 2-7 in the games against Buffalo Carter has played and Todd Starkey has coached. Both wins were in Kent, one in their MAC East championship year in 2017 and last season, when they upset Buffalo 62-53 in the last game of the regular season.
“Buffalo is going to try to not let you run what you want to all offensively and defensively,” Starkey said. “A lot of their offense is based on being aggressive to the basket and on offensive rebounds.”
The KSU players want very badly to beat Buffalo.
“We want a win,” said sophomore Lindsey Thall, who had 28 points against the Bulls Saturday. “Last game we didn’t match their intensity. But if we do, we’ll be fine.”
For Carter at this point in the season, every game could be the last of her career.
“I try not to think about it,” she said. “I want a championship and then go to the tournament. So I at least want four more games. I just use the opportunity in front of me and take it day by day.”
(Carter likely has at least two more games. The Flashes have a good case to make the WNIT if they lose in the MAC Tournament.)
What’s she telling KSU’s three freshman about their first experience in the tournament?
“Just enjoy every moment and the opportunity. And have fun.”
Thall’s advice to the freshmen:
“Just keep their poise. A lot of things can change during a game because it’s a really loud atmosphere. So just keep their cool.”
Carter on what it is like playing in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse?
“That’s a professional arena. It’s big. It’s like rows and rows and rows. And the depth perception changes.”
Does she like playing there?
“Yeah. It’s pretty cool. Pretty cool.”
It will be a strange arena when they play to empty seats.
Starkey said he thought his team was ready.
“We had a great final three weeks of the season, playing some of our best basketball,” he said. “The Buffalo game was tough to prepare for in that weren’t really going to enhance our playoff position in any way. And Buffalo is always a tough place to play.
“But we’ve put that behind us, and I think everybody is excited about getting up to Cleveland.”
The coach said the team is as healthy as could be expected.
“We’re banged up, but everybody probably could give you a list of issues they’re dealing with at this time of year,” he said. “If you’re not banged up a little bit, you’re probably not playing very hard.”
Starkey said that he doesn’t agree with the argument that freshmen — Kent State starts two and a third plays significant minutes — don’t play like freshmen at the end of the season.
“We don’t have experience with what the MAC Tournament looks like and what it’s like playing up there,” he said. “Most of our players have either played one game or no games there. You can’t train experience. But it’s our job to prepare them for that environment.”
Does playing Buffalo for the second time in five days make any difference? Starkey said it helped Kent to have had the first-round bye and the extra rest. “We earned it,” he said.
With a team like Buffalo that they’ve played twice, “You try and make some quick tweaks here and there, but teams aren’t going to morph into something they’re at this time of year.”
All about the game
It should start between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. The first of the four quarterfinal games starts at noon. Each of the next starts a half hour after the previous game ends. So times are inexact.
Winner will play the winner of the Ball State-Eastern Michigan game at about 1:30 p.m. Friday.
MAC Women’s Tournament Central, including brackets, statistics and more.
All statistics are for regular-seasons conference games only, which are more current and reflect similar competition.
- Record: Kent State 18-11 overall and 11-7 in regular-season MAC play. Buffalo is 19-11, 9-9 in MAC. Buffalo has won six games in a row. Kent State has won four of its last five, with the only loss coming to Buffalo.
- RPI: Kent State 97 of 351 Division I teams. Buffalo 113. (RPI is based on a team’s record and schedule strength.)
- Power rankings: Kent State 103. Buffalo 104. (Adds factors like margin of victory, record in recent games, injuries.)
- Scoring average: KSU fifth in MAC at 69.0 points per game. Buffalo seventh at 68.1.
- Defensive average: KSU fourth at 67.1. Buffalo sixth at 67.5.
- Field-goal percentage: KSU 10th at 40.0% (seventh on 3-pointers at 31.2%). Buffalo 11th at 39.7% (last on 3s at 25.3%).
- Field-goal defense: KSU fourth at 39.1% (11th on 3s at 35.9%). Buffalo fifth at 39.4 (10th on 3s at 34.3%).
- Free-throw shooting: Kent State seventh at 68.9%. Buffalo fourth at 70.5%.
- Rebounding margin: KSU seventh at -1.1. Buffalo first at +4.4.
- Turnover margin: KSU fourth at +1.5. Buffalo sixth at +0.5. KSU sixth in steals at 6.9, Buffalo fourth at 8.1.
- Assists: Kent State 10th at 10.8. Buffalo 11th at 10.9.
- Blocked shots: Kent State first at 4.5. Buffalo sixth at 2.4.
Kent State starters
- 5-11 freshman guard Katie Shumate (12.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, sixth in MAC in 3-point percentage at 39.0, eighth in field-goal percentage at 44.3, 12th in free-throw percentage at 75.9).
- 6-2 freshman forward Nila Blackford (11.5 points, sixth in rebounding at 8.1).
- 5-7 senior guard Megan Carter (11.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals).
- 5-1 freshman guard Mariah Modkins (3.8 points, 37.1 3-point shooting, 1.4 assists).
- 6-2 sophomore forward Lindsey Thall (11.4 points, 1.9 three-point baskets a game, first in MAC in blocked shots at 2.7).
Key KSU reserves
- 5-4 sophomore guard Asiah Dingle (14.3 points, third in MAC in field-goal percentage at 52.3, fourth in steals at 2.2, 2.7 assists).
- 5-10 sophomore guard Hannah Young (5.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 35.7 three-point percentage).
- 5-10 freshman guard Clare Kelly (2.2 points, 1.5 rebounds).
- 5-11 junior forward Monique Smith (1.0 points, 2.2 rebounds).
- 5-5 freshman guard Dyaisha Fair (fourth in MAC at 19.8 points per game, fourth in Division I in all games at 21.5 points, seventh at 3.5 assists, second in steals at 2.4. Named MAC freshman of the year Tuesday.)
- 5-10 senior guard Therese Onwuka (13.2 points, 10th in rebounding at 7.6, third in steals at 2.2).
- 6-2 sophomore forward Adebola Adeyeye (8.2 points, fourth in rebounding at 8.6).
- 5-3 senior guard Hanna Hall (8.1 points, 2.9 assists).
- 6-foot junior forward Marissa Hamilton (4.7 points, 4.0 rebounds).
Top Buffalo reserves
- 6-3 freshman center Elea Gaba (5.3 points, 2.4 rebounds).
- 6-3 sophomore forward Keowa Walters (5.2 points, 4.1 rebounds).
- 6-3 freshman forward Loren Christie (2.6 points, 2.9 rebounds).
- 5-9 freshman guard Jessika Schiffer (2.7 points, 1.1 rebounds)
Following the game from home
Video stream on ESPN+ starts at game time at about 8 p.m. All four MAC quarterfinals, starting with Central Michigan-Toledo game at noon, are on ESPN+, which costs $4.99 a month. Men’s quarterfinals are on the network on Thursday, along with women’s semifinals on Friday.
ESPN+ also will stream a number of KSU spring events, especially baseball and softball. It also will stream the MAC gymnastics championship and most spring championships. ESPN+ includes all other MAC schools, many other mid-major conferences and some original programming.
Audio will start at about 7:45 p.m. on WHLO 640 and Golden Flash iHeart Radio. David Wilson is the announcer.
Live statistics for all tournament games will be on the MAC Tournament website during the games.
Kent State website, with links to roster, statistics, schedule and more.
Buffalo website, with links.