Today was the best day in MAC women’s basketball history.
Buffalo and Central Michigan both won first-round games over higher-seeded opponents. Both were clearly the better team on the court.
Buffalo was absolutely dominating. The Bulls beat South Florida, 102-79. A hundred points. A 23-point margin. This from a team that was the MAC runner-up and got into the tournament with the league’s first at-large bid in 22 years.
Central Michigan beat LSU, 78-69. The Chippewas never trailed by more than two and led by at least seven throughout the fourth quarter.
Both Buffalo and CMU were No. 11 seeds. That means the selection committee thought 10 teams in their brackets were better. South Florida and LSU were six seeds. The only higher seed to win in the first round was No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast, which beat Missouri, 80-70.
The wins were the first ever in the NCAA tournament for Central and Buffalo.
Central Michigan (29-3) will play No. 3 seed Ohio State (28-6) in Columbus on Monday, and Buffalo (28-4) will play third-seeded Florida State (26-6). Buffalo’s game will be at Florida State. Ohio State’s will be St. John Arena, not on campus, because the Ohio high school state tournament is being held there. (To keep attendance up, the NCAA schedules first-round women’s games on the home court of the highest-seeded team in the four-team grouping. In the men’s tournament, all games are at neutral sites.)
Toledo and Kent State won first-round games in 1996, Toledo by 12 over Mississippi and KSU by four over Texas A&M. Both MAC schools were 10 seeds. Kent State got in the tournament as an at-large team, the last MAC school to do so before Buffalo.
Bowling Green is the only MAC team to win a second-round game. In 2007, they were a 7 seed and beat No. 10 seed Oklahoma State 70-66, then No. 2 seed Vanderbilt 59-56. They lost in the Sweet 16 to Arizona, 67-49.
Ball State beat Tennessee as a 12 seed in 2009. Otherwise, today’s two 11 seed wins were the lowest seeded teams to win. Toledo was also an 11 seed when it beat Rutgers in 1991.
A year ago, Kent State’s magical season season ended with a good loss at Michigan in the WNIT.
The Flashes had won 13 more games than the previous year, jumped more RPI spots than any team in the country and won the MAC East for the first time in 12 years.
We knew the encore would be hard.
I’m not sure we thought it would be this hard.
Kent State finished this season with a 13-19 record — the reverse of last year’s 19-13. Picked second in the MAC East, the Flashes finished a distant fourth. Overall, they were 10th in the MAC.
This post will start to wrap up the 2017-18 season. We’ll look at players today; next we’ll look at numbers and games that made a difference.
Later we’ll look ahead to next season, check how the recruiting class did in their senior year in high school, and maybe get a year-end interview with coach Todd Starkey.
When Starkey became head coach in April 2016, he inherited a 6-23 team that had been mired in the depths of the MAC for five years. We’d have been happy with a .500 season. Heck, we’d have been delighted with 10 wins.
Instead we got a miracle season. Everything fell into place. Starkey instilled a new attitude and new offensive and defensive systems. Larissa Lurken went from the second-best player on Kent State’s team to the best player in the MAC. Jordan Korinek, McKenna Stephens and Megan Carter made major jumps as offensive players in the MAC season. (Despite Lurken’s 23 points a game, Kent State was a .500 team before those three came into their own.)
This season almost nothing fell into place. Every starter but Lurken returned, but all of them averaged within two points of what they did the previous season.
That’s not saying that group had bad years.
Korinek was all-MAC and academic all-American. She scored the third most points in a season in Kent State history. Every opponent built its game plan around stopping her. Not many did. She scored more than 30 points three times, more than 20 points 16 times, more than 15 points 24 times.
Who knows how many games Kent State would have won had Stephens not come back for a final year of eligibility? She got her undergrad degree in May but decided last summer to return as a grad student for her last year of eligibility. She led Kent State in rebounding in 11 games and averaged the same solid 10 points a game she did in the Flashes’ championship run.
Carter missed the first semester because of one of the strangest academic ineligibilities in in college basketball; her pre-med major was too much, and tough lab classed killed her GPA. She became KSU’s second-leading scorer when she returned. While she was sidelined in fall, Starkey said he thought she could make a big difference in Kent State’s offense when she returned. That never happened; we probably expected too much for a sophomore. Carter’s scoring kept Kent State in some games, but in others she’d struggle terribly (two for 20 in Kent’s first game against Akron, for example). Carter averaged 10.2 points a game. How many points did Lurken average when she was a sophomore? 11.1.
Alexa Golden played her usual great defense and became an intense rebounder from her guard position. But Starkey said she played most of the season on legs that sometimes hurt so much that she didn’t practice. At the end of last season and in the non-conference season, Golden showed potential as a scorer, especially as a distance shooter. But she only scored more than eight points four times in 18 conference games. She scored fewer than five points 11 times.
Sophomore Ali Poole took Lurken’s spot in the starting lineup. Her defense was greatly improved and her scoring was up to 7.1 points a game — far from Lurken numbers (but, to be honest, not far from Lurken’s sophomore numbers).
Naddiyah Cross was an unsung starter — 91 of 123 games in her four years. She averaged four points a game for her career (5.1 this season). But the Flashes won three games this season because she did score — 19 points in an overtime win at Eastern Kentucky, 24 points in a seven-point win over Eastern Michigan, 20 points in KSU’s overtime upset of Toledo in the MAC Tournament. But the game I’ll remember is her brilliant defensive performance at Michigan, when she played the chaser in a box-and-one defense and held all-American guard Katelynn Flaherty to four points, second lowest in Flaherty’s career.
Tyra James returned after missing all last season with a knee injury, but her numbers weren’t anywhere near the 10 points a game she averaged two years ago. Her minutes were limited until the last six games of the season. I thought she made a difference once she played; I wish we had seen more of her earlier. That also would have eased the load in the rest of the guards, who played a lot of minutes and may have worn down.
A year ago, Starkey credited junior Merissa Barber-Smith with making the difference in the Flashes’ winning three games. KSU was counting on Barber-Smith, the tallest player on the team at 6-4, as its key post reserve. Instead, Barber-Smith went out with a medical issue on January. Senior Zenobia Smith stepped in, but she’s four inches shorter and couldn’t take over the backboards and block shots the way Barber-Smith could.
Kent State’s freshman class was recruited in the three months after Starkey arrived. By that time, most of the best high school seniors had been committed to other colleges for months. Starkey put together what looked like a solid class, but none of them really had an impact on this season. Erin Thames, who had the least impressive high school statistics of the group, actually played the most minutes as a serviceable back-up point guard. Monique Smith, who had the most impressive high school record of the group, showed some potential, leading the team with six rebounds at Miami.
Kent State won the MAC East last season because Lurken averaged 10 points a game more than she did as a junior in a classic breakout season.
To do as well this year, the Flashes needed a breakout season from someone else.
They didn’t get it.
MAC champion Central Michigan and runner-up Buffalo are both 11th seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Central (28-4) will play No. 24 LSU (19-9) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Ohio State’s Value City Arena. Sixth-seeded LSU finished fourth in the SEC and has an RPI of 29 (out of 349 Division I teams). Central’s RPI is 15. RPI is a rating system that takes into account a team’s record and strength of schedule.
Buffalo (27-5) will play sixth-seeded South Florida (26-7 and ranked 19th in the latest AP poll) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Florida State in Tallahassee. South Florida finished second to No. 1 Connecticut in the American Athletic Conference. Its RPI is 14; Buffalo’s is 22.
Central made the NCAA by winning the MAC Tournament with a 96-91 victory over Buffalo in Saturday’s finals. Buffalo received an at-large bid; this is the first time the MAC has had two teams in the NCAA tournament since Kent State and Toledo made it in 1996. (That was the year KSU beat Texas A&M for its only NCAA tournament victory.)
Three MAC teams made the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
Ball State (24-6), playing in its sixth straight WNIT, hosts Middle Tennessee (18-12) Thursday. Middle Tennessee tied for third in Conference USA and has an RPI of 112. Ball State finished third in the MAC and has an RPI of 44.
Toledo (17-14) will play at Wright State (23-10) Friday. Wright State finished third in the Horizon League and has an RPI of 84. Toledo’s RPI is 85. Kent State knocked Toledo out of the MAC Tournament with an 80-76 overtime win at Toledo.
Miami (21-10) will host Duquesne (23-7) Thursday. The Redhawks finished fourth in the MAC this season. Under new coach Megan Duffy, Miami had 11 more wins than it did in 2016-17, the second best improvement in Division I. Duquesne finished second in the Atlantic 10 Conference and has an RPI of 74. Miami’s RPI is 78.
The capstone for Jordan Korinek’s basketball career came Monday.
She was named a first-team Academic All-American, the third in Kent State history.
The award wonderfully illustrates the contribution the senior from Cuyahoga Falls made to Kent State University.
- She was a great athlete — fifth-leading scorer in KSU history (and a lot more we’ll talk about later).
- She is a great student — a perfect 4.0 average in special education.
- She is a great person, from everything I’ve heard about her and from my interaction with her in writing this blog for four years.
All the details are below, but first, let’s look as this Twitter thread from last week’s MAC Tournament
#KentState head coach Todd Starkey hugs Jordan Korinek as she fights back tears after being removed from the game in the final moments of the 4th quarter of Wednesday nights game. (shot for @KentStateWbb) pic.twitter.com/iIbqcJa3yg
— DavidDermerPix (@DavidDermerPix) March 8, 2018
Thank you Coach! So thankful to have you the last two years!
— Jordan korinek (@JKorinek_23) March 8, 2018
Korinek joins Kate Miller, a 2002 graduate, and Lindsay Shearer, a 2006 grad, as the only Flashes to receive academic first-team honors. Shearer is 13 points ahead of Korinek in all-time scoring at 1,799. Miller played just her senior season for the Flashes after transferring from American University.
Korinek was a second-team academic all-American last season, along with teammate Larissa Lurken, who graduated in May. Kent State was the only school last year to have two academic all-Americans.
Some highlights of Korinek’s time at Kent State:
- Fifth in points with 1,786 points.
- Sixth in scoring average at 14.6.
- Fifth in field goals with 662.
- Fourth in field goal percentage at 50.4.
- Fifth in free-throw percentage at 81.1.
- Sixth in free-throws made with 445.
- Sixth in free throws attempted at 549.
- Sixth in rebounds at 751.
All for this season except as noted.
- Third in total points at 634.
- Seventh in scoring average at 19.8.
- Second in free throws made at 197, which was fifth in Division I this season.
- Fourth in free throws attempted at 234. 10th in Division I.
- Sixth in field goals at 208.
- Sixth in field goal percentage at 54.3 (in 2107-17).
- Second leading scorer, MAC East championship team, 2016-17.
- All-MAC first team 2018, second team 2017, honorable mention 2016. (Preseason all-MAC East 2016-17 and 2017-18)
- First-team Academic All-American 2018, second team 2017. Academic all-district 2016, 2017, 2018.
She started 113 of her 122 games at Kent State.
Korinek was a first-team all-state player at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. Her parents, Stanton and Erin, rarely missed a game. Her older sister, Morgan, played basketball at Kenyon College and is an assistant coach there. Her younger sister, Sydney, is a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary, where she is a key reserve on the basketball team. Korinek’s older brother, Kori, was a baseball player at Buffalo.
Two other MAC players made the first academic all-American team: guard Jay-Ann Bravo-Harriot of Toledo and guard Carmen Grande of Ball State.
The all-academic teams is chosen by college sports information directors. To be eligible, players need a 3.3 GPA and be starters or key reserves.
Biography information at KSU women’s basketball website.
Senior Jordan Korinek and coach Todd Starkey after she came out for the final time in a four-year career where she scored 1,786 points. (Photo by Henry Palattella the Kent Stater student newspaper and its sister website, KentWired.com.)
After 22 minutes, Kent State was at its high-water mark in its three games against MAC East champion Buffalo.
The Flashes had scored the first points of the second half and pulled within 32-31 of the Bulls, a team that had beaten KSU by an average of 34 points in two earlier meetings.
And the Buffalo’s defense took over.
Over the next eight minutes, the Bulls stole the ball 10 times and outscored KSU 24-2, then went on to a 72-50 victory in the MAC tournament semifinals.
Buffalo, the tournament’s second seed now with a 26-4 record, advanced to Friday’s semifinals to play sixth-seed Western Michigan, which upset No. 3 Ball State, 65-54.
The loss ends Kent State’s season with a 13-19 record.
“Defensively, they’re like sharks on blood,” coach Todd Starkey said in his postgame press conference. “They kind of sense that they have you and then they just swarm you. They’re phenomenal at getting deflections to steals to points. They’re probably the best team in the MAC at turning your mistakes into immediate points.”
Buffalo scored a phenomenal (one of Starkey’s favorite words) 41 points off of 26 Kent State turnovers. The Bulls had 20 steals and committed just 13 turnovers themselves. Five of those came when reserves were playing in the fourth quarter.
In Buffalo’s earlier 80-42 and 81-51 victories over Kent State, the Bulls scored a total of 38 points off turnovers.
“There are certain teams that are just matchup nightmares for you, and Buffalo certainly was that for us this year,” Starkey said. “The way Buffalo really takes you out of your stuff. Our personnel makes it difficult.
“We played them closer than we did the first two games, but at the same time they’re just a better basketball team than we are.”
Jordan Korinek and McKenna Stephens, playing their last game in Kent State uniforms, each had 16 points. Stephens added 10 rebounds for a double-double. Korinek ends her four-year career with 1,786 points, fifth in school history.
Kent State started the game playing as well as it did when it upset Toledo 80-76 in overtime Monday. The Flashes led 16-14 after a quarter, shooting 50 percent from the field. Stephens had seven points and six rebounds.
But the Flashes made just 29 percent of their shots for the rest of the game against the Bulls, who lead the conference in field-goal defense.
“I thought we played our hearts out in the first half, but we couldn’t make some shots,” Starkey said.
Kent State outrebounded Buffalo, the MAC’s leading team, 11 to 4 in the quarter and 19-13 in the first half. For the game, Buffalo outrebounded the Flashes, 41-36.
In the first half, Stephens said, “We just weren’t playing scared. We were playing fast and aggressive, just like they were. We were scoring off of it, getting a offensive rebounds and putbacks.”
As Kent State pulled its four seniors — Korinek, Stephens, Naddiyah Cross and ZenobiaBess — in the last minute, Starkey gave each a long hug as they reached the bench.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Starkey, who guided the team to a MAC East title in his first season last year. “When I got here, I just asked them to trust me, that we would try to get things turned around.
“I asked them to change their mindset, to change to the expectation to winning rather than hoping to be in the game. They embraced that.”
Megan Carter is OK
Starkey said guard Megan Carter should be all right after a frightening moment in the third quarter. Carter fell to the floor after a collision guarding a Buffalo player’s drive in the third quarter. She lay on her back for more than 10 minutes and was taken from the court on a gurney as a precaution for a possible head or spinal injury.
Carter’s injury came in the middle of Buffalos big third-quarter run. Both teams had to regroup while medical personnel treated her, with Starkey standing next to them.
“I think it’s kind of hard to be focused on what’s going on on the court and the game plan with tears in your eyes,” Starkey said. “So we’re looking at some of the players, saying, ‘Are you going to be okay? Are you going to make it?'”
Korinek and Stephens said that as seniors, they tried to steady their teammates.
“We have to try and keep the rest of the team focused and try to come out strong after a five-minute break of worrying about our teammate,” Stephens said. “We just tried to gather everybody together and push through it without Megan.”
On the Buffalo side, junior guard Cierra Dillard said, “You say a quick prayer and got back into the game.”
From Buffalo’s Stephanie Reid: “We obviously feel really bad for her, but it’s something that happens in the game. We had to keep the momentum that we had, and I think we did a good job of coming back on the court and not letting it affect us. We pray for her recovery.”
Buffalo came out of the play stoppage for Carter’s injury with a press and scored the next 13 points.
Buffalo outscored Kent State 24-2 over an eight-minute span in the third quarter and beat the Flashes Wednesday in the MAC quarterfinals.
The 72-50 defeat ends Kent State’s season with a 13-19 record. Buffalo, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, advances to Friday’s semifinals with a 26-4 record. The Bulls will play Ball State or Western Michigan, which were playing the final game at Quicken Loans Arena Wednesday night.
The Flashes played better than they had in two regular-season blowout losses to Buffalo. They were within five points at halftime and scored the first four points of the second half to make it a 32-31 game.
That’s when Buffalo’s defense took over. The Bulls forced 10 turnovers for the rest of the quarter and scored 15 of their 24 points off of them.
Steals and scoring off turnovers have been Buffalo’s strength and Kent State’s weakness all season. KSU coach Todd Starkey called the Bulls “a very hard matchup” for Kent State.
For the game, Buffalo scored an incredible 41 points off of Kent State turnovers. (I’m never seen a number that high.) They stole the ball 20 times, with only three coming in the fourth quarter when reserves were playing.
The Bulls themselves committed 13 turnovers (five in the fourth quarter). Kent State scored seven points off of them, and only two in the first three quarters.
Jordan Korinek and McKenna Stephens, playing their last game in Kent State uniforms, each had 16 points. Stephens had a double-double with 10 rebounds. Korinek finishes her career with 1,786 points, fifth highest in Kent State history.
Stephanie Reid, Buffalo’s senior point guard, played a near-perfect game to lead the Bulls. She had 22 points of 10 of 15 shooting, 11 assists five steals and no turnovers in 33 minutes.
Starkey said Kent State guard Megan Carter should be all right after a frightening moment in the third quarter. Carter fell to the floor after a collision guarding a Buffalo player’s drive in the third quarter. She lay on her back for more than 10 minutes and was taken from the court on a stretcher as a precaution for a possible head injury.
DETAILED STORY WILL FOLLOW, WITH QUOTES FROM STARKEY, KORINEK AND STEPHENS
The KSU team at midcourt at practice at Quicken Loans Arena Tuesday. (Photo from Flashes’ Twitter feed.)
In his radio interview before Kent State’s surprise win in the MAC Tournament at Toledo on Monday, coach Todd Starkey ticked off things that had to happen for the Flashes to win:
- Keep turnovers down.
- Have two players in double figures besides leading scorer Jordan Korinek.
- Follow the game plan on defense.
- Shoot well.
Perhaps for the first time this season, the Flashes executed it all very well in their 80-76 overtime victory.
Now they have to do it again — against an even better team.
The Flashes play No. 2 seed Buffalo in the tournament quarterfinal at Quicken Loans Arena at about 5 p.m. Wednesday. Buffalo is 25-4 on the season, the best record in school history. They’re 20th in the latest RPI ratings, the highest a MAC team has ever been ranked this late in the season. They were 16-2 in the conference and beat Kent State twice by at least 30 points.
The Kent State plan will be the same.
THE TURNOVER STORY
The Flashes gave up 28 points off 18 turnovers in their 81-51 loss to Buffalo a week ago. Meanwhile, Kent State scored just nine off of 11 Buffalo turnovers. The Flashes have been last in the conference in turnovers and turnover margin most of the season,
Against Toledo, KSU had fewer turnovers than the Rockets (15-14) and scored more points off of them (15-13).
SCORERS BESIDES KORINEK
All season long, Kent State has been looking for scoring to complement Korinek, who is second in the MAC at 19.9 points per game. In Kent’s first game with the Bulls, Korinek had 22. No one else on the team had more than five in an 80-42 loss.
Against Toledo, Korinek had 21 points (16 in the fourth quarter and in overtime). But guards Megan Carter (24 points) and Naddiyah Cross (20 points) had two of their best games of the season.
FOLLOWING THE PLAN
When the Flashes lost to Buffalo a week ago, they were outscored 26-8 in the third quarter, many of the points on steals and fast breaks. After the game, Starkey grumped that his team didn’t follow the plan to limit such “live-ball turnovers.”
In both of their wins over Toledo this season, Kent State set out to mix up its defenses. On Monday, the Flashes played their base match-up zone, a 1-3-1 zone, a 2-3 zone and a man-to-man. Starkey praised his players for talking on defense, something they slip on when they’re playing poorly.
In conference games, Kent State was 11th in the league in field goal percentage at 37.6 percent. In the two Buffalo losses, Kent State shot a combined 29.9 percent, including just 21 percent in Buffalo.
In Toledo, the Flashes made a season-high 48.3 percent of their shots. Key is the guards’ shooting. Korinek is ninth in the conference in field goal percentage at 51.7 in league play. Fellow forward McKenna Stephens makes 37.6 percent, and shot much better last season. No Kent State guard is above 35 percent. KSU is shooting just 25.2 percent from three-point distance, well below any other team in the league.
To make things even harder, Buffalo leads the MAC in field goal defense at 36.6 percent.
Three Bulls were named to the all-MAC second team announced Tuesday:
- Junior guard Cierra Dillard, a transfer from Massachusetts who leads the team in scoring (14.5 points per game) and steals (2.8). She is second in assists (5.1, which would lead most teams) and three-point percentage (32.8). Dillard may be the biggest difference between last year’s Buffalo team, which finished second to KSU in the East, and this year’s division champion.
- Senior center Cassie Oursler, a 6-3 player who is second in the MAC in blocked shots, including a number against Korinek when the teams played before. She averages 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds. She had 19 points and 14 rebounds in just 18 minutes against Kent State on Feb.7.
- Senior point guard Stephanie Reid, one of the best passers and defenders in the conference. She was a member of the MAC all-defensive team, averaging 2.5 steals per game, and makes 7.1 assists per game. She averages 11.2 points and leads the team in three-point shooting at 37.5 percent.
To follow the game
Action starts at about 5 p.m., or a half hour after the Miami-Ohio game ends. Here are directions to Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. Driving time is about an hour. There are lots of nearby parking garages and surface lots. A $10 ticket gets you into all of Wednesday’s games, which start with the Central Michigan-Eastern Michigan game at noon. All seats are general admission.
Video is on ESPN3. You can follow it online if your subscribe to ESPN on cable or by satellite.
Audio starts at about 4:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio and WHLO.
Live statistics will be available through the MAC website.
I could have run another action photo of Jordan Korinek. You’ve seen dozens. But instead, here’s a charming photo I snapped of her and her 1-year-old nephew after the Akron game. The son of Jordan’s other brother, he’s been to several games this season. It’s clear she dotes on him.
Kent State senior Jordan Korinek added one more honor to one of the greatest careers in school history when she was named to first-team all-MAC.
It completes a pretty progression for the woman from Cuyahoga Falls and St. Vincent St. Mary High School. She was honorable mention her sophomore year and second team last season.
Korinek will finish her career as the fourth- or fifth-leading scorer in school history, depending on how much she scores in her final games. She has 1,770 points so far, 29 behind Lindsay Shearer, another great student-athlete who played between 2002 and 2006.
Shearer was a two-time Academic All-American who graduated from the College of Education with a 3.96 average. Korinek was on the Academic All-America team last season; this year’s team will be announced later this spring Korinek is also an education major. Her GPA is 4.0.
Korinek is among KSU career leaders in field goals, field goal percentage, scoring average, free throws made, free throws attempted, free throw percentage and rebounds.
Her 618 points this season is fourth highest in Kent State history.
Here are all of the All-MAC honors, announced Tuesday:
Player of the Year: Tinara Moore, Central Michigan
Coach of the Year: Sue Guevara, Central Michigan. (I voted for Miami’s Megan Duffy, who took a team predicted to finish last in the MAC East and guided it to a 20-win season. Guevara’s CMU team was loaded; she did was she was expected to do.)
Freshman of the Year: Cierra Hooks, Ohio.
Those three awards are voted on by the media. Coaches vote on the rest.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tinara Moore, Central Michigan
Sixth Player of the Year: Oshlynn Brown, Ball State
2018 MAC Women’s Basketball All-MAC First Team
- Presley Hudson, Central Michigan
- Tinara Moore, Central Michigan
- Jordan Korinek, Kent State
- Lauren Dickerson, Miami
- Courtney Woods, Northern Illinois
All-MAC Second Team: Moriah Monaco, Ball State; Cierra Dillard, Buffalo; Cassie Oursler, Buffalo; Stephanie Reid, Buffalo; Reyna Frost, Central Michigan.
All-MAC Third Team: Carmen Grande, Ball State; Danielle Minott, Eastern Michigan; Cierra Hooks, Ohio; Kaayla McIntyre, Toledo; Mikaela Boyd, Toledo.
All-MAC Honorable Mention: Courtnie Lewis, Eastern Michigan; Kendall McCoy, Miami; Kelly Smith, Northern Illinois; Jay-Ann Bravo-Harriott, Toledo; Breanna Mobley, Western Michigan.
All-Defensive Team: Carmen Grande, Ball State; Stephanie Reid, Buffalo; Tinara Moore, Central Michigan; Cierra Hooks, Ohio; Mikaela Boyd, Toledo.
All-Freshman Team: Oshlynn Brown, Ball State; Mikaela Kelly, Central Michigan; Courtnie Lewis, Eastern Michigan; Cierra Hooks, Ohio; Gabby Burris, Ohio.
KSU players (from left) McKenna Stephens (10), Alexa Golden (24), Jordan Korinek (35), Naddiyah Cross (1) and Monique Smith (25) celebrate as the clock hits zero in their overtime victory at Toledo. (Photo by Henry Palattella, KentWired)
In the end, Kent State’s seniors didn’t want to go out on a dud.
Two days after their worst game of the season, the 10th-seeded Flashes came from 17 points behind to beat No. 7 Toledo in overtime, 80-76, and advance to the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament.
KSU will play 25-4 Buffalo, the second seed and MAC East champion, at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (Exact time depends on when earlier games end.) Buffalo, which had a first-round bye, beat the Flashes twice during the regular season.
KSU senior forward Jordan Korinek overcame a miserable first half (one of five shooting and one rebound) to score 16 points in the fourth quarter. Her three-point basket with 47 seconds to go tied the game at 70.
“I couldn’t buy a basket,” said Korinek, the MAC’s second-leading scorer and the fifth-highest scorer in KSU history. “My teammates kept telling me, ‘Keep shooting.’
“In the back of my head, I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t go out like this. Don’t let your team go out like this.’ I kept pushing, and eventually the ball went in.”
Korinek finished with 21 points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists.
48 hours earlier, it had looked as if the Flashes may have given up on the season. They scored a season low in a 58-35 loss at Miami. Coach Todd Starkey was so unhappy with his team’s effort that he pulled all five starters after three-and-a-half minutes. (They did return.)
“In my 21 years of coach, this may be one of the most unexpected wins based on where we were just a few days ago,” Starkey said in his postgame interview on Golden Flash Radio. “I thought they were done after the Miami game. It just looked like they didn’t have anything left.”
But Monday, he said, “My gosh, they played so hard. They executed, they listened. . . my gosh, they finally listened and executed the stuff that we were trying to run. Defensively they talked. They made the hustle plays.”
(All that is how Starkey consistently described the team’s struggles in its 5-13 conference season, which was eight wins worse than last year.)
“I’m so happy for our seniors,” Starkey said, “that we’re able to give them this last hurrah in Cleveland.”
Besides Korinek, the game’s heroes were two guards who had struggled mightily as Kent State lost seven of its last eight games.
Sophomore Megan Carter had 24 points and six rebounds. (“A fantastic game,” Starkey said.) Carter had made just 25 of 106 shots (23 percent) since Kent State beat Toledo in January. Wednesday Carter made eight of 17 shots.
Senior Naddiyah Cross had 20 points (three three-pointers), four rebounds, four assists and only one turnover while playing 44 of 45 minutes. She had been averaging 5.2 points a game and had only scored more than four points once since mid-January. Her total was four points off her career high.
“I was thinking, ‘I don’t want my career to end without me working hard,'” Cross said. “Coach keeps telling us, ‘Give it all you can.’ We just had one of our worst games. Our coaches have coached us much better than we’ve played, and we just wanted to show respect for everything that’s been given to us.”
Cross and Starkey said a key to the game was to not make it complicated.
“I said the whole game, ‘You don’t have to do spectacular things. You just have to do the simple things well over and over again.‘” Starkey said.
“Sometimes you try to make the fancy passes,” Cross said. “But against this team that’s so aggressive, we have to keep it simple.”
Every play is important in an overtime game, but here are three critical ones:
- At the end of the third quarter, Carter grabbed a rebound with five seconds left, drove most of the court and hit a three-point shot at the buzzer. “If she doesn’t make that, we go in down 13 and probably feeling sorry for ourselves, thinking, ‘Here we go again.'”
- When Korinek hit her three-point basket to tie the game, it was just her 21st three-pointer of the year. She’s made 203 total baskets. “I was kind of shocked that I shot it,” Korinek said. “But it felt really good when it left my hand.”
- After Toledo had scored to take a 72-70 lead with 4.8 seconds to go in regulation, Kent State called time and advanced the ball to the front court. As Cross in-bounded the ball, Carter circled around and cut down the opposite side for the foul lane. Cross loped a pass to her, Carter was fouled on the layup and made both shots to send the game to overtime.
So the Flashes avenged their loss to Toledo in the quarterfinals of last year’s MAC Tournament, the only game anyone on the KSU team has even played in Quicken Loans Arena. KSU was the third seed last year and had a bye into the quarterfinals.
“This honestly feels better,” Korinek said, “having to work for it and getting the win as the underdog.”
- Kent State’s record is now 13-18. Toledo ends the season at 17-14. It was the second time this season the Flashes had won at Toledo, the first a 62-55 game on Jan. 24. The last time before that Kent had won in Toledo was in 2007.
- The win ended an eight-game losing streak in the MAC tournament for the Flashes.
- Alexa Golden led Kent State with seven rebounds and had three blocked shots. She played 39 minutes on sore legs. (“Lex has played hurt all season,” Starkey said.)
- Statistics were as even as you’d expect in an overtime game. Both teams had 33 rebounds and 34 points in the paint. Kent State made 48 percent of its shots, Toledo 46 percent. KSU scored 15 points off 14 Toledo turnovers. Toledo scored 13 off of 13 Kent turnovers.
- Center Kaayla McIntyre led Toledo with 18 points. Mariella Santucci and Mikaela Boyd had 14 and Jay-Ann Bravo-Harriott had 11. Bravo-Harriott, a four-year starter and one-time freshman of the year in the MAC, fouled out with 3:19 to go in the fourth quarter. McIntyre played the last seven minutes of the game with four fouls.
- Toledo had an astounding 23 assists on 28 baskets, led by Bravo-Harriott’s seven. Kent State had 12 assists on 28 baskets.
In the other first-round games:
- No. 9 seed Eastern Michigan (11-19, 6-12) beat No. 8 Northern Illinois (15-15, 7-11), 84-77 at Northern. Eastern Michigan will play No. 1 seed Central Michigan (25-4, 17-1) at noon Wednesday.
- No. 5 Ohio (16-14, 9-9) beat No. 12 Akron (9-21, 3-15), 85-73 at Ohio. The Bobcats will play No. 4 Miami (20-9, 12-6) at about 2:30.
- No. 6 Western Michigan (17-14, 9-9) beat No. 11 Bowling Green (11-19, 3-15), 85-71 at Western. WMU will play No. 3 Ball State (24-5, 13-5) at about 7:30 Wednesday.
MAC Tournament website, including bracket, recaps and box scores of all games, and link to ticket information.
Down 53-36 with two minutes to go in the third quarter, Kent State came back to beat Toledo in overtime Monday, 80-76, to advance to the MAC Tournament quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Flashes will play second-seeded and East Division champion Buffalo at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. (Time depends on when earlier games end.)
The Flashes rallied behind 21 points by Jordan Korinek. The senior forward, the second-leading scorer in the MAC, had a miserable first half with just two points and one rebound. But she had 19 in the second half, including a three-point basket with 27 seconds to go in regulation to tie the game for the first time since the second quarter.
Guards Naddiyah Cross and Megan Carter carried the Flashes while Korinek was struggling. Carter had 24 points and Cross 20, both their second-highest totals of the season. Carter’s free throw with 47 seconds to go in overtime game Kent State a 77-76 lead. The Flashes played good defense and hit foul shots to win the game.
The victory game two days after perhaps Kent State’s worst game of the season, a 58-35 loss at Miami.
“In my 21 years of coaching,” KSU coach Todd Starkey said, “this may be be one of the most unexpected wins, based just 48 hours ago.”
DETAILED STORY, INCLUDING MORE QUOTES FROM STARKEY AND QUOTES FOR KORINEK AND CROSS, WILL FOLLOW