Kent State’s Mariah Modkins (5) and Asiah Dingle celebrate after the Flashes’ big win over Buffalo. (Photo by David Dermer from team Twitter feed.)
The Kent State women’s basketball team beat its biggest nemesis — the University of Buffalo — on Wednesday and advanced to the its first Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals in 10 years.
The Flashes won 72-66 and will play No. 7 Eastern Michigan at about 1:30 p.m. Friday in a mostly empty Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. Fans except for players’ families are banned from the arena to try to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
No. 3 seed Kent State is the highest surviving seed. Top-seeded Central Michigan fell to ninth-seed Toledo 78-71 and No. 2 Ball State lost to Eastern 64-63. In the fourth semifinal, No. 4 Ohio beat No. 5 Western Michigan 84-75.
Buffalo had beaten Kent State twice in the regular season, once by 13 points, once by 14. The Bulls had knocked KSU out of the tournament in the quarterfinals the last two years. Since 2012, Buffalo is 17-4 against the Flashes.
But Wednesday belonged to Kent State. The team did things that it failed to do in the regular-season losses to the Bulls. Key numbers for Kent State:
- 26-11 in points off turnovers. Buffalo had a combined advantage of 35-26 in first two games.
- 32-32 in points in the paint. In the teams’ first game, it was Buffalo 28-12. In the second, it was Buffalo 38-14.
- 34 rebounds to Buffalo’s 38, and the teams were 8-8 on second-chance points. On Saturday, Buffalo outrebounded KSU 47-34 and had a 23-15 edge on follow-up points.
“Buffalo has been our Achilles heel,” coach Todd Starkey said in an interview with ESPN after the game. “It’s a tough matchup for us. They’re a really aggressive team and can really rebound it.
“I thought we showed great composure when they made that run (11-0 in the fourth quarter). We found a way to get the stop at the right time, to rebound at the right time, and to score at the right time. Then we made free throws down the stretch.”
Freshman Nila Blackford put it simply in her postgame radio interview with announcer David Wilson:
“We really just wanted to beat Buffalo. We knew that we were the better team.”
KSU’s big 3rd quarter, Buffalo’s counter rally
Buffalo led 28-27 at halftime, but the Flashes dominated the second half of the third quarter and the first half of the fourth.
It started with aggressive plays that drew Buffalo fouls.
After just three-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter, Buffalo had committed five team fouls. That put Kent State in the two-shot bonus. It was KSU players who took the strategy to the coaches.
As the team came to the bench after a timeout, “I wasn’t really as focused on (the fouls) as I was on our game plan,” Starkey said.
Then the team talked to him and each other. Here’s how Starkey related it:
“Hey, they’re in the bonus,” team members said. “Let’s continue to stay aggressive and get to the line.“
Kent State made nine-of-10 free throws in the third quarter and nine of 11 in the fourth.
A 3-point shot by Katie Shumate at the buzzer of the third period gave KSU a 55-47 lead into the last period.
The Flashes pushed the lead to 15 points — 68-53 — with 3:36 to go in the game.
“We were just being really aggressive and moving the ball,” senior Megan Carter said. “It had them a little frazzled. They are so aggressive on defense, and they were just running around. I think our ball movement got to them.”
Then Buffalo came back.
Dyaisha Fair, the newly named MAC freshman of the year, had two steals, two baskets and two free throws. Kent State missed two shots and committed two fouls, and suddenly the score was 68-64 with 1:36 to play.
But then Fair missed a layup, then missed two 3-pointers while Carter, Shumate and Asiah Dingle made four free throws, and the Flashes had the win.
“We’ve talked all season that good teams make runs, and you’ve got to answer them,” Starkey said. “We didn’t answer that 11-0 run as quickly as I would have liked. It made it a little more nerve-racking down the stretch than we wanted, but I thought we did a good job of digging in.
“They made some really good plays and came right at us. This time of year, good players make good plays, great players make great plays. We had some great players make great plays to answer what they did.”
Blackford had struggled, especially in scoring, since she returned to the lineup two weeks ago after a concussion. But Wednesday she looked like the woman who was Kent’s leading scorer and rebounder for most of the season. Blackford had 14 points on five-of-10 shooting and a game-high 13 rebounds. It was her fourth double-double of the season.
“They have really big, strong and athletic players,” Blackford said.athletic girls. So it was always tough, but I just tried to stay composed, calm down and go up strong.”
As she’s done in almost every game since she began to come off the bench in February, Dingle made a big difference. She came into the game after about five minutes. Kent State trailed 9-7. On the next possession, she stole the ball and fed Lindsey Thall for a 3-point basket, then led an 9-2 run with two assists and two baskets. She finished the quarter with eight points.
“I felt we played very aggressive,” Dingle said. “When we didn’t, we were like, ‘Come on, we have to bring it to them like they’re bringing it to us.'”
Dingle led Kent State with 18 points, seven assists and four steals.
Starkey and the technical
After referees failed to call a foul on a Buffalo player in the second quarter, Starkey stormed down the sideline, his face red. Assistant coaches tried to hold him back.
“It’s my first technical of the year,” he said when a reporter brought it up. “I just want to point that out.
“I just saw a play where I felt like one of our players got pushed in the back, and it was getting physical. I just wanted to make sure I drew attention to the physical play.
“I’m a passionate coach. I’m not going to apologize for that. I want to make sure our players know I have their back.
“So I lost it for a second there. I deserved to get a technical. But the rest of the game I felt like I coached with a lot of composure. Megan came over to me and said, ‘Coach, we need you.’ I appreciate that.”
The score was 31-24 after Buffalo made one of the technical foul shots and a 3-point basket on the next play.
Then Kent State outscored the Bulls 7-2 for the rest of the quarter.
The few and the loud
Kent State had about 100 fans in the 19,000-seat fieldhouse.
“They were phenomenal,” Starkey said. “They made this place feel like it was a lot more full than it was. They participated in this win.”
The freshman of the year shows why
Buffalo’s Fair had 36 points, her season high and tied for the most points a player has scored against Kent State this season. She was fourth in the country in scoring going into the day at 21.5 points per game. Wednesday she took 31 shots, made 13, was eight-for-eight in foul shooting, had 11 rebounds and four steals.
“Our philosophy really wasn’t how we can limit Fair,” Starkey said. “It’s to make her shots tough, and then make sure we limit everybody else.
“And she hit some really tough shots, but she’s a special scorer.”
No other Buffalo player scored more than six points.
Megan Carter’s first win in Cleveland
Carter has played in the quarterfinals since her redshirt sophomore year. Her teams had lost to Toledo and to Buffalo twice.
Starkey looked at her during the postgame press conference and asked, “It’s nice getting your first win in Cleveland, isn’t it, Megan?”
“Real nice,” she answered.
It also was Starkey’s first win in Cleveland.
Carter had 12 points and made eight-of-nine free throws.
- Ohio and Toledo will play at 11 a.m. Friday. The Kent State-Eastern Michigan game will start a half hour after the first game ends, probably about 1:30.
- The win broke Buffalo’s six-game winning streak. It was the fifth win in six games for the Flashes. KSU’s record is 19-11. Buffalo’s is 19-12. The Bulls (and the Flashes, if they don’t win the MAC Tournament) have a good chance for a WNIT bid. That’s assuming the tournament doesn’t get canceled because of the coronavirus.
- The Flashes made 24 of 27 free throws. That’s 89% and their second-best performance of the season. They made 30 of 31 against St. Bonaventure. After a mid-season slump in drawing fouls (and, at times, making foul shots), the Flashes have made an average of 21 over their last six games.
- Two Buffalo players fouled out. Two more had four fouls. Dingle and Thall had four for the Flashes.
- Kent State made 40% of its shots, Buffalo 36.4%. Neither team was effective from 3-point distance; KSU was four of 17, Buffalo three of 16.
- Thall had eight points, three assists and three rebounds.
- The Flashes had just seven turnovers through three quarters but finished with 15. Buffalo had six steals in the last quarter.
The view from Buffalo
Coach Felisha Legette-Jack:
“What a season we had. My goodness, we’ve come a long way. We’ve done so much with the third youngest team in the country. They just bought in and believed in this crazy old lady. We just went in and we just fought and we just believed and we just kept firing away.”
“We went to a little slump, lost five or six games in a row, but we didn’t lose those games. We may have lost three or four of them, but we were really, really good through two losses.”
On Dyaisha Fair:
“I try to share with the world that she’s special. She’s a substance kid, and the reason why she said ‘yes’ to us is because she believed that we had substance. We were going to grow her to this woman that I know she’s on her way to become. I am as in awe of this young lady as you are.”
Dyaisha Fair on her role on the team:
“We don’t have a go-to player on this team. We are a go-to team. I just do what I have to do as my role. I just take whatever my coach tells me to do, and I do it, along with my upperclassmen.”