Clare Kelly (left) and Monique Smith celebrate on the bench in Kent State’s MAC Tournament win over Buffalo. (Photo by David Dermer for Kent State sports.)
It’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago, we were playing basketball, and Kent State had just won its biggest game of the season.
This is the first of two posts wrapping up the 2019-20 season. It’s covers eight key games in the Flashes’ 19-11 season, starting with their opening win at Duquesne and ending with their quarterfinal win over Buffalo.
Nominate your own games if you like in the comments, either here on on Facebook or Twitter.
The numbers that made a season: 27.2 points from the freshmen, five more points a game on offense, a 17-percentage point improvement in Asiah Dingle’s shooting.
The games in chronological order:
Nov. 5: Kent State 77, Duquesne 75
In the season opener in Pittsburgh, the Flashes proved to themselves and the rest of the world that they could win with a starting lineup of freshmen and sophomores. That first-game lineup included freshman guard Clare Kelly, who started in place of senior Megan Carter.
Carter had a hand injury, months later acknowledged as a fracture. But she came off the bench two minutes into the game and played 35 minutes. Carter scored 12 points, including a basket in the last second that gave Kent the victory.
Duquesne finished the season 20-11.
Jan. 6: Eastern Michigan 74, Kent State 69
One of the two lowest spots of the season. As Starkey said a game later, the Flashes “kind of laid an egg” in the first half at the M.A.C. Center. Kent State missed its first eight shots and made only seven baskets in the first half. The game wasn’t as close as the final score. The Flashes trailed by double digits for most of the game, then rallied in the last two minutes.
The slow start was a pattern that the team fought with mixed success for the rest of the season.
The loss left Kent State in an 0-2 hole to start the MAC season. Digging out of it was one of the team’s biggest accomplishments.
Those two games (the first was a 66-62 loss at Ball State in the MAC opener) were Kent State’s only losing streak of the season. Every other loss was followed with a win.
Jan. 11: Kent State 75, Western Michigan 63
This game broke the losing streak. The Flashes did well most of the things that had gone badly in their last game. They led 19-12 after the first quarter and 43-27 at halftime. They played with energy that was lacking against Eastern. All season, when the Flashes played with energy, they were a tough team to handle.
Kent State won this game without senior Megan Carter, who missed the first of three straight games with mononucleosis. Carter fought upper respiratory problems most of the season and still led the Flashes in scoring five times.
Jan. 25: Buffalo 57, Kent State 44
This is lowlight No. 2. Actually the fourth quarter was the lowlight of the season. Kent State led 33-30 after three quarters. Then the Flashes missed 13 field goals out of 15 tries, missed six free throws and turned the ball over six times.
Buffalo’s fourth-quarter statistics were almost the opposite, led by 13 points from Dyaisha Fair. The eventual MAC freshman of the year, Fair had only four points in the first three quarters.
But this game had one giant plus. Kent State found its defense. Before that game, the Flashes had held only five of 16 teams under 70 points. After the Buffalo game, they held six straight teams under 70.
Jan. 29: Kent State 69, Ball State 68
A game after the Buffalo loss came Kent State’s first win over a MAC contender. The Flashes had lost 66-62 at Ball State in its league opener, and the Cardinals were in third place.
Carter, two games back from mononucleosis, played 36 minutes and scored 20 points. She made what proved to be the winning basket on a broken play with 10 seconds left.
Feb. 29: Kent State 96, Bowling Green 86 in double overtime
This game could have been a classic trap game. Kent State had beaten Bowling Green by 14 points in Kent three weeks earlier. The Flashes were coming off a 68-50 win over Akron, always an emotional game. Last-place Bowling Green had just upset second-place Ohio at home. And Kent had lost at Bowling Green the two previous seasons.
And it looked like a loss for the first quarter. BG led 9-0, then 23-4. But Kent dominated the second quarter to pull within four points at halftime, then took the lead in the third quarter and fought to a 72-72 tie in regulation.
The Flashes were down by two points with four seconds to play in the first overtime. But Katie Shumate made a brilliant pass to Nila Blackford for a layup at the buzzer to send the game to a second overtime, which Kent State dominated.
It was the wildest game of the KSU season.
March 4: Kent State 81, Ohio 77
This game clinched third place for the Flashes and a tie (with Ohio) for the MAC East title. It avenged an early 63-57 loss in Athens. It provided a win against the team that had been unanimously chosen in the preseason to win the MAC.
Freshman Katie Shumate led Kent State with 20 points and eight rebounds. She made the key play of the game when she took a charge from Ohio star guard Erica Johnson with six seconds to go and Kent leading 78-77.
March 11: Kent State 72, Buffalo 66
KSU’s first quarterfinal win in 10 years. Its first win over Buffalo in three years.
The game of the season.
The NCAA Tournament was in sight. The Flashes were the highest remaining seed in the tournament. They would have played Eastern Michigan in the semifinals and Toledo or Ohio in the finals. All were beatable teams.
And then the season was over, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.