Sophomores Asiah Dingle (3) and Mariah Modkins celebrate after overtime. (Photo from KSU Twitter feed.)
The KSU women’s basketball team knew its first two games were going to be important and difficult.
The Flashes managed to win both of them — but they were so very close.
After beating Duquesne 77-75 on a last-second shot Tuesday, Kent State rallied to force overtime at Youngstown State Saturday. Then they polished off the Penguins 82-73.
The games were critical for a Kent team that has aspirations of a big season. Both opponents were strong mid-majors (they won a total 41 games last season). Both games were on the road, where statistics show a team is less than half as likely to win as at home.
“We knew these first two games were going to be really difficult,” coach Todd Starkey said after the game. “We knew that if we were going to have any success in the non-conference, we needed to get off to a good start.
“I’m happy we found another way to win.”
The game followed the pattern of the win over Duquesne. The Flashes fell behind in the first half (seven points at Duquesne, 32-27 at YSU). They rallied behind good defense and timely scoring.
“We had talked about it in the locker room, trying to start off strong so that we don’t have to fight at the end,” said sophomore guard Asiah Dingle, who had 18 points. “But I guess it means we’re good at fighting, right?”
Kent State trailed 54-47 going into the fourth quarter. The Flashes held YSU to four of 11 shots in the fourth quarter and two of nine in overtime.
“We were doing some light pressure to try to keep them out of rhythm offensively,” Starkey said. “They were doing a good job of running all the way through their offense and hitting on the third of fourth option.
“When our players were picking up more full court, (the Penguins) were working off more of a 23-second shot clock. By pressing, they could only get to the first or second option before they needed to take a shot.”
The pressure also helped lead Kent to seven steals in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Flashes scored 13 points on 10 YSU turnovers in that time.
A key stretch came after the Penguins had taken their biggest lead of the game — 61-53 — with 7:26 to go. The Flashes ran off nine points in a row over three minutes to take the lead on two free throws by Lindsay Thall. The teams were within two points until the end of regulation. Thall hit two more free throws with 43 seconds to go to tie the game.
In overtime, the teams were tied at 71 with 2:16 to go when play stopped for almost three minutes while the referees sorted out whether a foul on Thall was her fourth or fifth. (It was the fourth.)
Dingle waited at the scorer’s table to check in all that time. When she got in, she scored on a driving layup 22 seconds later to give Kent State the lead for good. Seventeen seconds later, Nila Blackford stole a pass. Then Megan Carter was fouled on a three-point attempt with the shot clock expiring. She made all three shots and Youngstown State could never regroup.
For the second game in a row, five KSU players scored in double figures. Dingle had 19 and Carter 18.
Dingle also had five steals, equaling her career high, and eight rebounds, which is one off her career high. She made eight of 16 shots.
Carter made nine of 11 free throws, had two steals and drew 10 YSU fouls.
Freshman Katie Shumate had 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot. For much of the game she guarded Chelsea Olson, who had a triple-double with 11 assists in YSU’s 87-59 win over Canisius Tuesday. Against Shumate, Olson had three assists and fouled out.
“(Shumate) is going to keep improving” Starkey said. “She still doesn’t know college defensive concepts well. She’s just a really good player and acts on instinct. When she starts picking up some of the intricacies of defense, she’s going to be really difficult to handle.”
Blackford had 14 points and 10 rebounds, including six offensive rebounds in the first half. She also had two assists, two steals and blocked two shots while playing all but 26 seconds of the game. Blackford was one rebound short of a double-double in her first game.
Thall had 10 points, two steals and two blocks. She has blocked six shots in two games. Thall led KSU with 22 points against Duquesne, but Youngstown allowed her only four shots. “They had a really good game plan for us,” Starkey said.
- Kent State outrebounded YSU 41-36 and had 18 offensive rebounds. The Flashes led Youngstown in second-chance points 18-12.
- Kent State made 26 of 72 shots for 36.1%. In a difficult second quarter, the Flashes made only four of 22. The Penguins made 45.2% of their 62 shots. Kent won its second straight game while shooting worse than its opponent.
- Also for the second game, the Flashes forced the other team into far more fouls. Youngstown committed 27 and had two starters foul out. KSU made 24 of 36 free throws. The Flashes had 17 fouls.
- Senior Sydney Brinlee hit a three-point shot for her first points of the season. Sophomore guard Mariah Modkins hit two free throws for her first points. But the YSU bench outscored Kent’s 21-5.
- Senior Ali Poole, who has been fighting a knee injury, didn’t dress. She had played 13 minutes against Duquesne.
Lindsay Thall goes to the basket in Tuesday’s game at Duquesne. Thall scored 22 points and make six 3-point shots. (Photo by David Dermer. Other good photos of the women’s game and Wednesday’s men’s game are on Dermer’s Twitter feed — @DavidDermerPix.)
Until I took a deeper look into the box score of Kent State’s win over Duquesne, I didn’t realize how well the Flashes had played in the second half.
The first half was not good — 35% shooting to Duquesne’s 50%. 13 rebounds to Duquesne’s 29. Halftime score was 45-38.
The first quarter was downright bad — 29% shooting (Duquesne 59%). Five rebounds (Duquesne 14). First quarter score was 25-16.
The second half belonged to the Flashes:
- 54% shooting (14 of 26) to Duquesne’s 44%. KSU made 60% of its shots in the third quarter. Duquesne made only three of 10 in the fourth.
- 17 rebounds to Duquesne’s 15. That’s a huge reversal, though it’s due somewhat to KSU’s missing fewer shots, and therefore giving Duquesne fewer chances for rebounds.
The Flashes made some offensive and defensive adjustments at halftime, coach Todd Starkey said. And, the coach said, they just played better as the team’s freshmen settled down.
“I loved the way that we regrouped,” said senior Megan Carter, who hit the basket with 0.2 second to go to win the game. “We didn’t let mistakes get the best of us, and we kept playing.”
Three Duquesne starters fouled out. A fourth had four fouls. Overall Duquesne had 29 fouls to Kent State’s 17. It was one of the keys to the game.
“They were playing very physical, and the way the game is supposed to be called right now, those are fouls,” Starkey said.
Duquesne’s coach didn’t complain.
“I’m not criticizing the officials,” the Dukes’ Dan Burt said in his postgame news conference. “We’ve got to get smarter.”
The referees called a ton of offensive fouls. Two Duquesne starters fouled out on them. “It was real legit,” Burt said of forward Paige Cannon’s two fourth quarter fouls. “She pushed off twice.”
The stat sheet told Starkey another part of the story.
“One of the key stats of the game is fouls drawn,” he said. “Katie Shumate drew nine. We talk about playing aggressive and make the other team defend you. They obviously they couldn’t defend Katie.”
Asiah Dingle drew seven fouls. Carter and freshman forward Nila Blackford drew five each.
Kent State struggled turning those fouls into points, making only 13 of 22 free throws. KSU freshmen missed six of those — first game jitters, perhaps?
- Lindsay Thall’s six 3-point field goals were one off the school record and equaled a career high. Thall, who make 40% of her 3-pointers last season, was six of nine Tuesday.
- Five Kent State players scored in double figures, something that happened only once last season.
- Because of lingering injuries to seniors Carter (thumb) and Ali Poole, the Flashes started three freshmen (Blackford, Shumate and Clare Kelly) and two sophomores (Dingle and Thall). Kelly hit a 3-point basket to score KSU’s first points of the season, but she played only six minutes.
- Carter replaced Kelly two minutes into the game and played 35 minutes. Shumate played 38, Dingle 35, Thall 30 and Blackford 25. Poole played 14 minutes off the bench. Senior forward Sydney Brinlee played eight, sophomore guard Mariah Modkins played four and sophomore wing Annie Pavlansky played about a minute and a half. It was the first time Pavlansky had played in a close game in her time in Kent.
- After Tuesday, Carter has 936 points. She ought to be the team’s 22nd 1,000-point scorer before Christmas.
- Kent’s win breaks a four-game losing streak to Duquesne. The Flashes are 3-5 against the Dukes all time.
- The game was the first the Duquesne women have ever played in the PPG Paints Arena, home of hockey’s Pittsburgh Penguins. The Duquesne arena is being renovated, and the Duke women will play “home” games at four different sites near Pittsburgh this season, including at their rec center.
The view from Duquesne
From coach Dan Burt:
“It was a two-point loss to a good team from a league that frankly is much better than ours from an RPI standpoint.”
“It was disappointing after the way we started. In the second and third quarter, (Kent State) was able to score and get back and set up their defense.”
“(Duquesne defenders) had a difficult time guarding a drive, then getting back out to cover (KSU’s Thall), who is a very good three-point shooter. That’s where our breakdowns happened. If we close out an extra three or six inches, they probably won’t take some of those shots.”
Around the MAC
- No. 21 Syracuse 66, Ohio 54 at Syracuse. Ohio, 30-6 last season, is favored to win the MAC.
- Green Bay 109, Central Michigan 105 in double overtime at Central. Defending champion Central is a slight favorite to win the West Division, even though the Chippewas lost two all-conference first-team players. Green Bay is the team Kent State beat in the WNIT last season.
- Harvard 59, Northern Illinois 53 at NIU. Northern was picked just behind Central in the West. Harvard was picked third in the Ivy League.
- Buffalo 61, Central Connecticut 56 at Buffalo. Buffalo was picked second in the East, one spot above Kent State.
- No. 17 Michigan State 88, Eastern Michigan 50 at Michigan State.
- Toledo 74, Georgia State 48 at Georgia State. Toledo was picked third in the West.
- Indiana-Purdue at Indianapolis 65, Ball State 48 at IUPUI.
- Bowling Green 89, Cleveland State 62 at Bowling Green.
The shot heard ’round the MAC
Megan Carter’s winning basket made the top 10 plays of the day on ESPN’s Sports Center. Here’s one more look and how KSU radio announcer David Wilson called it.
Megan Carter (31) celebrates with teammates Monique Smith (left) and Lindsay Thall on the way to the locker room after the Kent State victory. (Photo by David Dermer.)
Megan Carter’s injured thumb had been hurting most of the game.
But she still was the person Kent State wanted with the ball in a tie game with four seconds to play.
Carter inbounded the ball to Ali Poole, then Poole gave it back to her at the top of the key. Carter dribbled into the lane and dropped a four-foot floater cleanly into the basket to give the Flashes a 77-75 win over Duquesne in their season opener Tuesday.
“I looked at all my options,” Carter said. “I didn’t want to turn the ball over, so I just played it safe. I knew I had some time left, and I drove.”
It was a set play, coach Todd Starkey said.
“Putting the ball into Megan Carter’s hands with four seconds left — that’s always a really good option,” the coach said. “She’s not afraid to take big shots.”
— Kent State Women’s Basketball (@KentStWBB) November 6, 2019
Carter is a fifth-year senior and was the Flashes’ leading scorer last season. She had injured her thumb in practice about 10 days ago, had been limited in practice, and didn’t even start Tuesday.
But she came in two minutes into the game and played almost all of the rest of the way, scoring 12 points in 35 minutes.
Carter had a large ice pack on her thumb after the game. Was it hurting?
“Yeah, but that’s OK,” she said. “We won, so I don’t care.”
Did she notice the pain when she took the winning shot?
“It was just adrenaline. I wasn’t even thinking about the thumb.”
The Flashes started three freshmen and two sophomores because of injuries to Carter and Poole. They looked very young and often unsure in the first half, even when the seniors were playing.
“We came out very slow and played very (long pause) porous defense,” Starkey said. “They’re a team that runs their stuff well, and they exposed us.”
Duquesne made 50% of its first half shots. The Dukes led by as many as 11 points and 45-38 at the half. KSU shot just 35% in the first half.
“We talked about that at halftime,” Starkey said. “We didn’t do a whole lot right in the first half, and we were only down seven.”
The Flashes fell behind by 13 early in the third quarter. At that point, Starkey said, “I didn’t know how this was going to end.”
“But our players showed a great deal of resiliency. We made adjustments, and they listened.”
Kent State held Duquesne to 30 points in the second half and 30% shooting in the fourth quarter. The Flashes shot 53.4% in the second half.
Five Kent State players scored in double figures.
Sophomore Lindsay Thall equalled a career high with 22 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. She made six of nine 3-point shots, blocked four shots and had five rebounds.
“She kept us in the game,” Starkey said. “If she doesn’t play the way she did in those first 30 minutes, the last five minutes isn’t possible.”
Freshman Katie Shumate scored 17, playing more than 38 minutes in her first college game. She made 7 of 11 shots and both her 3-point attempts.
“She makes plays all over the court,” Starkey said. “She can get by people and she can shoot the three. So she’s really a true three-level scorer. With her length defensively, she can really guard multiple people, and she did a much better job defensively in the second half.”
Freshman Nila Blackford led the team with nine rebounds to go with 11 points. She grabbed a defensive rebound in traffic with 10 seconds to play, then was fouled. Even though she missed both free throws, it was “big, big play.” Starkey said.
Sophomore Asiah Dingle joined Carter at 12 points. She also had four assists and two steals.
Kent State won the game by dominating two statistical categories: turnover margin and fouls drawn.
Three Duquesne starters fouled out, all of them before three minutes to go and two of them before eight minutes to go. Overall Duquesne fouled 29 times, Kent State 17.
The Flashes scored 24 points on 21 Duquesne turnovers. The Dukes scored 12 on 14 KSU turnovers.
“A big point of emphasis for our steam is to capitalize on the other teams mistakes,” Starkey said. “That’s one of the things we’ve struggled at in he past three years.”
Rebounding, however, went overwhelmingly to Duquesne — 44-30. The Dukes were clearly bigger than the Flashes in at least three positions for most of the game.
The Flashes play next at Youngstown State at 1 p.m. Saturday. YSU beat Canisius 87-59 Tuesday.
Senior Megan Carter (31) was the top scorer on last year’s team, averaging 15.9 points per game. (Photo by Austin Mariasy.)
Kent State’s first two games this season could give us an excellent signal on just how good this team is.
The Flashes open at Duquesne on Tuesday. Four days later they play at Youngstown State.
The games may be the most important of the non-conference season.
Yes, KSU plays three Big Ten teams — Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue. But any win there will be an upset.
But those first two games are winnable. They’re definitely not easy; both Duquesne and Youngstown State have well-established winning programs. Both are on the road, where statistics say winning is more than twice as difficult as winning at home.
But Kent State beat YSU 62-34 in Kent last season in its best non-conference game. The Flashes lost to Duquesne in Kent 77-72 in a game they led going into the fourth quarter.
Both Duquesne and Youngstown State lost significant strength to graduation. The Dukes graduated four starters and their top three scorers. YSU lost its top two scorers.
But the team’s programs are strong. Duquesne of the Atlantic 10 has won at least 20 games in nine of the last 11 years, and 18 and 19 in the two other years. Youngstown of the Horizon League has averaged 18 wins a season over the last seven years.
Kent State has at least its top three scorers, all starters, back from a team that went 20-13 a year ago. Senior Ali Poole, who started 19 of KSU’s 33 games last season and was its fourth-leading scorer, has missed almost all of the preseason with a knee injury.
None of that guarantees victories. But it should give us a quick look at how competitive the 2019-20 Flashes will be.
The non-conference schedule game-by-game:
AT DUQUESNE, Tuesday, Dec. 5
Last season: 19-13 overall, third in Atlantic 10 at 11-5. Won seven of its last eight games, losing in the A10 semifinals. 10-6 at home. Missed postseason play for the first time since 2007-08. Picked ninth of 14 teams in A10 this season. Beat Kent State 77-72 in Kent last season and has won four in a row against Flashes and five of seven overall.
Last season RPI: 137. Power Ranking: 71.
Lost four starters and top three scorers. Has 6-4 freshman center and four other players taller than 6-2, though none of the returnees have been major contributors. Recent teams have been guard-dominated.
Game will be at about 8:30 at PPG Paint Arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s the second game of a doubleheader with Duquesne men, who play Princeton.
AT YOUNGSTOWN STATE, Saturday, Dec. 9
Last season: 22-10 and third in the Horizon League at 13-5. Was 16-1 at home. Lost by two points to Green Bay in conference tournament semifinals. (Kent State beat Green Bay in WNIT). Lost to Cincinnati 76-62 in WNIT. Picked fourth in Horizon this season. Lost to Kent State 62-34 in Kent. KSU has beaten Penguins three straight years and leads 27-14 in the series overall.
YSU’s last year’s RPI 122. Power Rating 113.
Lost two starters, who were the team’s top scorers. Top returning scorer is 6-3 forward Mary Dunn, who averaged 12.6 points and 5.7 rebounds last season. Has 6-4 junior transfer from Western Michigan. She wasn’t a starter there.
Vs. MICHIGAN at Akron Classic, Friday, Nov. 15
Last season: 22-12 and fourth in the Big Ten. Lost to Louisville in second round of NCAA. Picked second in the Big Ten by conference coaches and fourth by media. Kent State is 0-5 against the Wolverines.
Last season’s RPI: 46. Power Rating: 61.
Returns two starters plus Naz Hilman, a 6-2 forward who was Big Ten freshman of the year, all-Big Ten first team and conference sixth player of the year last season.
Vs. PURDUE FORT WAYNE at Akron Classic, Saturday, Nov. 16
Last season: 7-22. tied for sixth in Summit League at 3-13. Picked last in nine-team conference this season. Is 1-1 against Kent State.
Last season’s RPI: 337. Power Rating also 337.
Returns three starters but lost two two scorers.
Vs. OHIO STATE at M.A.C. Center, Thursday, Nov. 21
Last season: 14-15, fifth in Big Ten at 10-8. Lost to Morehead State in first round of WNIT. Not in the top five in preseason picks in Big Ten (preseason rankings only include five). 5-0 all-time against Kent State, but teams haven’t met since 1982.
Last year’s RPI: 101. Power Ranking: 125.
Lost three starters. Returns Dorka Juhasz, a 6-4 sophomore forward who was second- team all-Big Ten last season and member of all-freshman team. She’s a preseason all-Big Ten selection. Recruiting class includes five players ranked in top 65 in the country by ESPN, headed by Kierstan Bell of Canton McKinley, Ohio’s Miss Basketball last season.
Vs. ROBERT MORRIS at M.A.C. Center, Sunday, Nov. 24
Last season: 22-11. First at 16-2 in Northeast Conference. Lost to Louisville, at that point No. 1, in first round of NCAA. Unanimous pick to win conference again. Kent State leads 6-5 in series and has won two of three in last three years.
Last year’s RPI: 179. Power Rating: 134 .
Lost three starters but returns five of top six scorers.
Vs. SAINT BONAVENTURE at M.A.C. Center, Tuesday, Dec. 3
Last season: 6-22, finishing 5-12 and 11th in Atlantic 10. Picked 13th this season. Kent State won at Saint Bonaventure last season, 76-64, but trails 7-5 in overall series.
Last year’s RPI: 262. Power Rating: 267.
Returns four starters but lost leading scorer. Added Division II junior college player of the year
AT PURDUE, Sunday, Dec. 8
Last season: 19-15, thing for 10th at 8-10 in Big Ten. Was 13-4 at home. Picked fifth in Big Ten by conference coaches. 2-2 all-time against Kent State with KSU wins coming in the early 1980s.
Last year’s RPI: 90. Power Rating: 94.
All five starters and five leading scorers back. Top returnee is Ae’Rianna Harris, two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Also returns first-team all-conference guard Karissa McLaughlin. Both are preseason all-Big Ten picks.
Vs. GEORGIA SOUTHERN at Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic, Thursday, Dec. 19
Last season: 7-22, last in Sun Belt Conference at 2-15. Picked 11th in Sun Belt this season. 2-2 vs. Kent State all time.
Last year’s RPI: 287. Power Rating: 299.
Three starters return, including leading scorer. New coach Anita Howard had 66-25 record at Division II Columbus State.
Vs. TROY at Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic, Thursday, Dec. 19
Last season: 22-9, fourth in Sun Belt at 13-5. Lost 93-89 to Alabama-Birmingham in first round of WNIT. Picked second in Sun Belt this season. First meeting between two teams.
Last year’s RPI: 93. Power Rating: 84.
Returns three starters and four of five top scorers.
Vs. HIRAM at M.A.C. Center, Monday, Dec. 30.
Hiram was 10-16 in Division III last season.
PREDICTION: Somewhere between 5-6 and 8-3
Unless the Flashes completely fall apart, they should beat Purdue Fort Wayne, St. Bonaventure, Georgia Southern and Hiram.
On their home court in Kent, they should be favored over Robert Morris.
That would be five wins.
It sure would be nice to beat a Big Ten team, but it would be unexpected at the least.
So that leaves the first two games at Duquesne and Youngstown State, plus the matchup against Troy in Las Vegas, as the keys to the preseason.
All should be good games. Kent State could win them all. It could lose them all, though I’d think that would be less likely.
That adds up to a non-conference record between 5-6 and 8-3. I’d lean toward the 7-4 or 8-3 end of the scale.
More on this year’s team
Kent State senior Megan Carter is a preseason all–MAC East selection, and the Kent State women’s basketball team has been picked to finish third in the division.
The preseason poll and all-MAC teams, voted on by the league’s 12 coaches, was announced Wednesday.
Ohio, which returns four starters from a team that went 30-6 last season, was picked to win the East, the overall MAC championship and the conference tournament.
The East Division predictions, with vote totals.
- Ohio 72 (unanimous selection).
- Buffalo 56.
- Kent State 50.
- Miami 32.
- Akron 28.
- Bowling Green 14.
Defending champion Central Michigan was picked to win the West Division, despite the fact that it lost two all conferences players in guard Presley Hudson and Reyna Frost. The full west predictions, with vote totals and first-place votes in parenthesis:
- Central Michigan 60 (4 first-place votes).
- Northern Illinois 59 (4).
- Toledo 50 (2).
- Eastern Michigan 35 (1).
- Ball State 30 (1)
- Western Michigan 18.
The All-MAC East team (alphabetical order):
- Megan Carter, redshirt senior guard, Kent State.
- Lauren Dickerson, senior guard, Miami.
- Summer Hemphill, senior forward, Buffalo.
- CeCe Hooks, junior guard, Ohio.
- Erica Johnson, redshirt sophomore forward, Ohio.
The All-West team:
- Nakiah Black, junior guard, Toledo.
- Oshlynn Brown, junior forward, Ball State.
- Corrione Cardwell, redshirt junior guard, Eastern Michigan.
- Micaela Kelly, junior guard, Central Michigan.
- Breanna Mobley, redshirt senior forward, Western Michigan.
- Courtney Woods, redshirt senior wing, Northern Illinois.
The team has six players because of a tie vote.
Analysis: After Ohio, who knows?
The Bobcats are loaded and were the certain choice as favorite.
After that, it’s really anybody’s guess.
- Buffalo lost a great senior class but had a deep team and has added a good freshman class.
- Kent State has 83 percent of its scoring back, plus three good freshmen. The Flashes lost to Ohio twice last season by just two points.
- Miami has a new coach but two outstanding players as a nucleus (Lauren Dickerson and senior forward Savannah Kluesner, who may be the best player not on the preseason teams).
- Central Michigan lost an awful lot but it always deep and recruits well. Kelly was the Chippewas’ third best player and probably would have been the best on about eight other teams.
- Northern Illinois, which was only one point behind Central, has four 2018-19 starters back plus Courtney Woods. She was a first-team all-MAC player who missed most of last season with an injury.
- Ball State also has a lot of players back from injuries and a good freshman class. I suspect they’re underrated.
- Toledo is always good but lost some key players.
Among those teams, almost nothing would surprise me — except Ohio not being one of the best teams in the league.
And of course teams can come out of nowhere. Kent State did in 2015-16, winning the East after being picked last. Miami did the same thing a year later.
The seniors at Media Day: forward Sydney Brinlee, guard/forward Ali Poole, guard Megan Carter, with coach Todd Starkey. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)
Every college basketball coach, Kent State’s Todd Starkey told the Media Day Wednesday, is saying the same thing at this time of your.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “We’re at that time of the year when you’re not really sure of what kind of team you have.”
His team is young, he said. It’s also talented.
“The question is,” hew said. “‘What’s going to win out this season?’ Is it going to be talent, or is it going to be youth? That’s the kind of the yin and yang we have right now in practice.
“There are times we look really good, and there are times we’re very average. That’s what we’re working through, but the middle of October is the time to be working on that.”
The Flashes are coming off of a 20-13 season and their first postseason win in 23 years — a 64-59 victory at Green Bay in the WNIT.
They have a lot of returning firepower. Senior Megan Carter was KSU’s leading scorer last season and third-team all-MAC. (“We’re looking for her to stake a claim as one of the top players in the league,” Starkey said.) Sophomore guard Asiah Dingle (“a nightmare to stop in transition”) and sophomore forward Lindsay Thall (“shooting very well” were members of the league’s all-freshman team.
Senior Ali Poole started 19 of Kent’s 33 games last season and 48 games in her career. She was KSU’s fourth-leading scorer last season. She also is still recovering from a knee injury (“progressed a lot quicker when we’ve hoped,” Starkey said). But it’s still unclear when she’ll be able to go full speed in games.
Two more sophomores — guards Hannah Young and Mariah Modkins — were among the first players off the bench last season.
That’s four sophomore and two seniors.
Add three freshmen who have played big roles in practice and the team’s exhibition tour of British Columbia this summer, and you have the team’s youth.
“We’re still trying to figure some things out,” Starkey said, “but we definitely can be better than last year. This has the opportunity to be our most exciting team to watch.”
A chance to play ‘risky’ defense
“We’ve been fairly plain vanilla,” Starkey said. “We’re looking at trying to expand that, take some calculated risks and try to generate more offense from our defense.
“I think we have the athletes on the roster this your to take risks. With some of your younger players in the wing positions, we’ve got players who can cover more ground more quickly and who have length and athleticism.”
The players who are back
A non-comprehensive list from Starkey:
ASIAH DINGLE, the 5-4 point guard who averaged 12.9 points a game: “Everybody knows how good she can be at times. Her level of consistency has continued to rise.” In earlier interviews, both she and Starkey said she had worked to develop her 3-point shot (just 16.4% last season) and create opportunities for her teammates. She averaged 6.7 assists a game during Kent’s Canada trip; she averaged 2.3 last season.
CLARE KELLY, 5-8 freshman guard from Olmsted Falls: “At times, the best shooter on the planet. Like she can’t miss.” She was 9 for 18 on 3s in Vancouver.
KATIE SHUMATE, 5-11 freshman guard from Newark, and NILA BLACKFORD, 6-2 freshman forward from Louisville, Kentucky: “They’re just making plays all over the court.” Shumate was second on the team in scoring in Candada. Blackford led the team in rebounding.
SYDNEY BRINLEE, 6-foot senior forward from Allen, Oklahoma. She was the third senior with Poole and Carter at media day: “She is going to fill some significant minutes for us because of her energy, her voice, her improvement.”
HANNAH YOUNG, 5-10 sophomore guard from Brookville, Va.: “Much improved. Worked very hard in the off season on her footwork. Is shooting the ball very well.”
Carter, Thall and Poole were covered earlier in this post.
The players who left
Kent State lost two players — guard Alexa Golden and center Merissa Barber-Smith — to graduation. They averaged a total of just 10.6 points a game, but their impact was more than points.
“What Alexa meant to our team from a leadership standpoint was significant,” Starkey said. “And you don’t have that voice on the court any more. She’s not going to be able to cover up for people’s mistakes on the court defensively like she did last year.”
(Golden is still with the team as a graduate assistant.)
“Merissa was the most dominant rebounder in the country last year per minutes played,” the coach said. “She had some huge rebounding games down the stretch and really helped us win.”
The WNIT glow
All of the players and Starkey said the Flashes’ WNIT win in Green Bay gave the program a big boost.
“We’ll sit and talk in the locker room,” Poole said. “The freshmen will kind of hop in. They’ve never done any of this before. So we’re like, ‘This is what happens. Now this is what we have to do next year.'”
“It gives us confidence,” Brinlee said. “It pushes us to want more, and we feed off of each other.”
The fan base grows
Season tickets, Starkey said, are running ahead of last year. Attendance grew through last season, hitting 1,928 against Miami in late February. This season’s home highlight, of course, is KSU’s Nov. 21 game against Ohio State. It’s the first time the teams have met since 1982.
A chance to play another team
The Flashes get their first look at outside competition in two closed scrimmages over the next two weeks. They’ll play Cleveland State of the Horizon League and Pittsburgh of the ACC.
The NCAA allows a combination of two closed scrimmages and exhibition games. Exhibitions are usually against Division II or Division III team. More schools have gone to two scrimmages to face better competition. KSU’s men’s team has done that for years.
When’s the first game?
The Flashes open at Duquesne on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The game will be at the PPG Paints Arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s the second game of a double-header, so it will start about 8:30.. (First game is Keith Dambrot’s men’s team against Princeton. Dambrot is the former Akron coach.)
Flashes will play at Youngstown on Saturday, Nov. 9.
Then they play Michigan at the James A. Rhodes Arena at Akron on Friday afternoon, Nov. 15. It’s the first game of the “Akron Classic,” in which Kent State and Akron play the same teams on successive days. On alternate years, it’s the “Kent State Classic at the M.A.C.C. KSU will play Purdue Fort Wayne Saturday in Akron.
Home opener is the Ohio State game Nov. 21.
I’ve got some leftover material from media day and earlier interviews I’ll try to post in the next few days.
Coach Todd Starkey and team after victory last season. (Photo from KSU website.)
A 6-3 forward from suburban Pittsburgh who averaged a double-double as a junior is Kent State’s third verbal commitment in the class of 2020.
She is Lexi Jackson of Gateway High School in Monroeville, who averaged 16 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks a game last season. In one game, she had a triple double of 37 points, 16 rebounds and 11 blocks.
She tweeted earlier this fall that she planned to attend KSU. Coaches can’t comment on recruits until they’ve received signed letters of intent. The earliest that can happen is Nov. 13.
Jackson was a third-team member of the Pennsylvania Sports Writers Class 5A All State team and is taller than any other player on the first, second or third team. One recruiting service ranked here as the third best power forward in the state.
Her team finished 19-4, won its league title and lost in the regional quarterfinals.
Jackson had offers from at least four other mid-majors, including Western Michigan and James Madison.
In an interview with TribLive, a Pittsburgh online news site, she said she was sold on Kent State’s coaching staff.
““You can tell the coaches really care about the girls (on the team),” Jackson told the site.
Her high school coach, Curtis Williams, said KSU coach Todd Starkey was “really, really genuine” in the recruiting process.
“He appeared to care for her as a person, not just a player,” he said in the TribLive article. “That was most critical to her decision making.”
Williams was very high on Jackson as a player.
“She’s a young player in terms of her growth and development over the last 18-24 months,” he said. “She is scratching the surface with how good she can be. Most people aren’t aware of what is she capable of.”
Jackson joins two-time all-state guard Casey Santoro from Bellevue High School in northwestern Ohio as an announced KSU commit. Kent Coaches tweeted another commitment in June but couldn’t name the player because of NCAA rules. I hear she is a 6-4 post player from Ohio who isn’t active on social media, which is the only way I can learn her name.
Santoro was district player of the year and first-team all-Ohio in both her sophomore and junior seasons. She and averaged 22 points last year, once scoring 40 points in a game where she made 10 three-point shots.
Casey is the sister of Carly Santoro, who started three years for Bowing Green, then graduated early and transferred to Ohio State. She also started there. The Santoro sisters’ father, Kory, is Bellevue’s head girls coach.
The two incoming post players and 6-4 Indiana transfer Linsey Marchese will give Kent State as much size in the front line as it has ever had. Marchese will sit out this year because of NCAA transfer regulations. Marchese scored in double figures in all three of Kent’s exhibition games in British Columbia in August. She was a highly ranked high school recruit out of Georgia who was recruited by Starkey when he was an assistant for the Hoosiers. Marchese was a backup at Indiana, averaging about 11 minutes a game over two years.
From my conversations with Starkey, I’m pretty sure that’s all the recruits he’ll sign in November.
He and his assistants are working hard on the class of 2021. Starkey was in Texas last month for an open high school practice to see a 6-2 forward rated one of the best in the state. Assistant Morgan Toles was at another open gym in Michigan, where she watched one of that state’s best junior guards, who later tweeted that KSU (and MAC rival Central Michigan) was one of the six final schools she’s considering.
(Central, by the way, landed 2020 forward Rachel Loobie, who seemed to have offers from most teams in the MAC. I mentioned her earlier when she posted (in a single tweet) photos of her visiting Kent State, Miami and Bowling Green.)
“We’ve been very active on the 21 class and the 22 class,” Starkey said in an interview earlier this month. “Those are the two classes that are going to replace the young talent (on the current roster) moving forward.”
When the class of 2022 arrives at Kent, the team’s current six-person sophomore class will be seniors. Two players from that class made the MAC’s all–freshman team last season. Two more were key reserves. Marchese will become a member of that class, and she’s very likely to be a starter next season.
Kent State will lose three players to graduation in May — last year’s leading scorer, guard Megan Carter; guard/forward Ali Poole, who was KSU’s fourth leading scorer last season, and forward Sydney Brinlee, who was the second post player off the bench last season.
The Flashes’ current junior class, which will graduate in 2021, has only two members, neither of whom played significant minutes last season.
Director of basketball operations moves on and up
Alison Seberger, KSU’s director of basketball operations since Starkey arrived, has become an assistant coach at North Alabama.
It’s an expected move for someone in that job. Director of basketball operations is sort of a junior assistant coach. She handles many of the mechanics of the team, especially travel arrangements and scheduling for recruit who visit Kent State. She helps in practice but can’t recruit off–campus.
Seberger’s busiest time at Kent State came during the Flashes’ two-game run in the WNIT last season. She had to schedule travel arrangements for both games on two- and three-day notice. I heard one player tease her during the trip that the phone grew out of Seberger’s ear.
In a goodbye tweet, assistant Mike McKee called her “one of the best DOBO’s to ever do it!”
No replacement has been announced.
Senior Ali Poole (right), who started 19 games last season, is still recovering from a knee injury suffered in practice this summer. Wearing a hefty knee brace, she participated in drills last week that required no significant movement or contact. Her status for the upcoming season is still unclear. (Details below.) Other player in photo is sophomore Lindsay Thall.
Perhaps for the first time, the Kent State women’s basketball team will play the marquee game in a doubleheader with the men.
When the women host Ohio State on Thursday, Nov. 21, they’ll play the 7:30 p.m. game — after the men play Division II Concord at 5 p.m.
In every other evening doubleheader I remember in 35 years of following KSU sports, the women always played first — before the crowds arrive.
But the Ohio State game is something special. The Buckeyes are the biggest name (men or women) to visit the M.A.C. Center this season and certainly one of the biggest schools ever. It’s also the first time the two teams have played since 1981.
When the game was announced earlier this summer, coach Todd Starkey said he dreamed of filling the 6,200-seat M.A.C.C.
The doubleheader is one more piece that might make that happen.
Biggest women’s crowd I can remember was about 4,500 in 2010, when the Flashes lost to Bowling Green in a “10 tickets for $10” promotion. I remember talking at that game to Judy Devine, KSU’s first women’s coach and later longtime top woman sports administrator for the university. She told me that there were crowds that large in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “A different era,” she said.
Other game times of note:
- The Flashes opener at Duquesne on Tuesday, Nov. 5, will also be the second game of a doubleheader. The Duquesne men play Princeton at 6. The KSU game will start at about 8:30 or a half hour after the men end. It will be the first game Duquesne women have ever played at PPG Paints Arena, the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team.
- The Flashes’ game vs. Michigan at the Akron Class will be at 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, an awkward time for fans.
- Kent State will play St. Bonaventure at noon Tuesday, Dec. 3. It’s a “school day” game with students from local elementary and secondary schools invited. The men play at 7 that night against Detroit Mercy.
- The Flashes have two other home doubleheaders:
- 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, vs. Western Michigan. The men play Central Michigan at about 3:30 p.m.
- About 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, vs. Toledo. The men’s game against Ohio starts at 1.
- Kent State’s two games at the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic start at 3 p.m. (noon Kent time). The Flashes play Georgia Southern on Thursday, Dec. 19, and Troy on Friday, Dec. 20.
Senior Ali Poole rehabbing an injured knee
Poole was injured in practice in August, shortly before the team’s exhibition game trip to Vancouver, Canada.
She has been in rehabilitation since. When I watched practice last week, she wore an impressively large knee brace. She did take part of a couple of non-contact drills, shot some free throws with the team and spent a lot of time shooting three-point shots with a team manager. (Her shooting looked pretty good.)
“We just continuing to see how she progresses,” Starkey said after practice. “She’s actually ahead of where I thought she’s be at this point. So I’m optimistic.
“We need her, We need her experience, and we need her leadership.”
Poole averaged 8.8 points a game last season, fourth best on the team. She started 19 of 33 games and averaged almost 28 minutes per game. Poole, Megan Carter and Sydney Brinlee are the seniors on the team.
It’s been a rough year for women in the Poole family. Her sister, Mikayla, plays basketball for Malone. Mikayla watched a couple of KSU games last season with a dislocated shoulder in a sling. The sisters’ mother, Jodie, watched her daughters play last season with her own foot in a cast after surgery. Jodie had been an assistant and junior varsity coach at Carrollton High School for many years.
A first-day passing drill with coach Starkey and freshman guard Clare Kelly. Next to Starkey is sophomore point guard Asiah Dingle.
“Every season, every team writes its own story,” coach Todd Starkey told his 14 players as they stood in a loose circle at center court in the M.A.C. Center at 9:45 a.m. Thursday.
Starkey has used the phrase before, but it seemed very apt on Thursday, his team’s first official day of practice.
He nodded toward Alexa Golden, the four-year starter who has moved into a graduate assistant role with the team.
“Last year Lex and Merissa (Barber-Smith, last season’s other senior) stood where you are,” Starkey went on. “It happens fast. A blink and it will be gone.
“Don’t squander it.”
And with that started the 2019-20 women’s basketball season, one that brings much promise. The Flashes return four starters and 83.4 percent of their scoring from a 20-13 season. They have three promising freshmen, two of whom could well be in the starting lineup their first game at Duquesne Nov. 5.
The goal, said senior Megan Carter, the team’s leading scorer last year, is simple.
“A MAC title,” she said after practice.
It’s certainly within the realm of possibility. The Flashes were fifth in the Mid-American Conference last season. Of the four teams ahead of them, only Ohio (27-8 last season) has more firepower returning. Central Michigan and Buffalo, last season’s divisional champions, had major graduation losses. Miami has its two best players back but graduated three other starters and lost its coach to Marquette.
Other teams, especially Northern Illinois and Ball State, looked to be improved. But Kent State is as good a bet as any for the top four spots, which earn a bye at the MAC Tournament.
But, as Starkey reminded his team Thursday, that’s almost six months away.
“It’s three-and-a-half weeks until our first game,” he said. “It will happen quickly — and we’re not ready. We need the practice.”
So the Flashes set to work. In the two hours, the team:
- Put up a lot of shots in fast-moving drills. Sometimes they’d hit five 3-point baskets in a row, then miss five 15 seconds later. But there is no doubt that this team has shooters, and they’ve been working on improving.
- Worked for a long time on “back screen defense” — a way to stop opposing teams from freeing a shooter by running her by another player. (It’s basic basketball, but I still understood only about 30 percent of what Starkey was saying.)
- Ran their half-court offense — not hugely different than what we saw last season — with a lot of different combinations of players.
- Introduced the basic 1-3-1 defense with variations — for example, a post in the center, or a point guard in the center.
- Hit five of six free throws at the end of practice to avoid having to run sprints.
“We’re still very young,” Starkey said. (There are likely to be four sophomore and three freshmen among its top nine or 10 players.}
“So you saw a lot of teaching today,” he said. “There was a lot of talking and teaching and breaking down stuff. We’re going to need to be about that for the next two to three weeks.”
NCAA rules allowed the Flashes to practice four hours a week this summer — with more time before and during the team’s exhibition tour to Vancouver, Canada, in August. Starkey and his assistants emphasized individual work.
“Our assistant coaches did a phenomenal job of helping every player’s individual skill set,” he said. “But from a team defensive standpoint, we need time and reps.”
(For the record, the coach said almost exactly the same thing a year ago, and defense turned out to be the team’s strength.)
I’ve got a lot more from the practice, the Starkey interview and brief chats with four key players. I’ll be adding posts for the next few days.
But let’s give the last word on the first day to Starkey, who’s seen 21 seasons begin as a coach.
“It’s always new,” he said. “New practice gear, new shoes, and always a new level of excitement.”
This is Kent State’s new practice facility for basketball and volleyball. Located in the M.A.C. Center Annex, it opened last week. The teams will use it when the university needs the M.A.C.C. for other things, such as graduation or concerts. It also will give the teams more flexibility in setting practice times. (Photo from KSU Twitter feed.)
Kent Stater sports writer Ian Kreider did a major piece on the facility when it was under construction.
Here’s a video the team posted on Twitter Monday.