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Flashes spot Ohio huge first-half lead and can’t quite come back, losing 83-81

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Senior Alexa Golden had a career-high 22 points, seven rebounds, four steals, three assists and two blocked shots. (File photo by Bill Howard for KSU website.)

 

Only one team has beaten Ohio University this season. No one else has come closer to the 14-1 Bobcats than Kent State did Wednesday.

The Flashes fell at OU 83-81, ending KSU’s seven-game winning streak. The Flashes are tied for first in the Mid-American Conference with Ohio, Buffalo and Central Michigan at 3-1. CMU lost its first conference game Wednesday, 70-67, to Miami at home.

The score wasn’t quite as close as it looked. Guard Alexa Golden, who had a career-high 22 points, hit a three-point shot at the buzzer. Even if she hadn’t, it would have been Ohio’s second closest win of the year. The Bobcats beat Buffalo 74-71 in overtime in Buffalo. Their only loss came to CMU at home, 88-70.

The game didn’t look remotely as close in the first quarter, when Ohio built a 25-12 lead. The Bobcats led 47-31 at the half.

But KSU outscored OU 19-11 in the third quarter and closed to 63-61 with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The game was played within six points for most of the rest of the game.

“Against a high-power offense like they have, you can’t be down 13 points at the end of the first quarter,” coach Todd Starkey said. “It’s really not a whole lot more complicated than that.

“We weren’t ready to play. Once we started trying to play more aggressively offense and communicate better on defense and box out on rebounds, things started going in our favor.

“We fought back really hard. But in the second half, we had a couple of key plays that went against us right when we needed them to go for us.”

Golden played perhaps her best game in four years in a Kent State uniform. She had eight of KSU’s 12 points in the first quarter and scored eight of the team’s last 10  points. She had seven rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocked shots.

“She was the only one who was really consistent from start to finish in her effort and energy,” Starkey said. “We had other players do well at times.”

Golden, the team’s only senior starter, “gets it,” the coach said.

“She knows how difficult it is to play on the road in this conference,” he said. “I was proud of the way she played, but she definitely needed more support, especially early on.”

Redshirt junior Megan Carter, the team’s leading scorer, had two points in the first quarter but ended with 20. Ali Poole had nine and Asiah Dingle, Merissa Barber-Smith and Lindsey Thall all had eight. Barber-Smith also had nine rebounds in 14 minutes of play.

Referees called 55 fouls in the game — 28 on KSU and 27 on Ohio. Three Ohio starters, including star guard Cece Hooks, played the entire fourth quarter with four fouls until she fouled out in the last minute. Key reserve Erica Johnson picked up four fouls in the last quarter to foul out. Four Kent State players had four fouls.

“At one point, we looked out and eight of the 10 players on the court had four fouls,” Starkey said. The refereeing, the coach said, was “confusing.”

Part of Kent’s strategy, assistant coach Morgan Toles said in a postgame interview with David Wilson on Golden Flash iHeart Radio, was to try to take advantage of Ohio’s aggressive defense and draw fouls.

Dingle, Kent’s second leading scorer, picked up two early fouls and played only 17 minutes, her lowest of the season. It was the first time in the conference she has played against guards like Ohio, who are quick enough to challenge Dingle’s speed on offense and defense.

“She’ll be fine,” said Toles, who coaches the point guards. “We’e got to keep her out of foul trouble, but we’ve got a long way to go this season, and she’s going to get better and better.”

Ohio plays a fast-paced game and is the fifth-highest-scoring team in the country But over the last five minutes, the Bobcats actually ran down the shot clock to protect its players in foul trouble and to keep KSU from coming back.

Ohio made its season average of 46 percent (best in the MAC) of its field goals. That was about 11 above Kent State’s defense average, which had led the league.

“Ohio is going to play the way they play and dare you to stop them,” Starkey said. “And we couldn’t do that early.”

Box score

Notes

  • Kent State’s 31 points in the fourth quarter were the most the team has scored in any quarter since the NCAA women switched from halves in 2014. The Flashes have outscored every league opponent in the last quarter and after averaging 26.5 points in the last 10 minutes in conference play.
  • KSU ended up making 41 percent of its shots (27 of 66) after going two for 17 in the first quarter. That’s about 2 points above their season average. They made six of 19 three-pointers for 31.6 percent and 21 of 27 free throws.
  • Ohio had led the league in turnover margin by a huge amount (plus-eight, four ahead of anyone else. But KSU had five fewer turnovers — 17 to the Bobcats’ 22. Kent scored 21 off those turnovers, Ohio 19.
  • Rebonds were almost even: Ohio 36, Kent State 35. The Flashes had 14 assists on 28 baskets.
  • Freshman guard Mariah Modkins played 27 minutes, her season high besides  the one game she started when Dingle was hurt. She had four points, three assists and a steal.
  • Hooks, who was last year’s freshman of the year in the MAC, led Ohio with 23 points. Redshirt freshman guard Erica Johnson had 15 off the bench Amani Burks had 15 and Dominique Doseck had 14.

Next for the Flashes is Central Michigan, which is 12-4 after the loss to Miami (11-4, 2-2 in the MAC. The game starts at noon Saturday and is the first of a doubleheader with the men, who play Northern Illinois at about 2:30. The time of the games has been moved up because of an expected snowstorm.

Other MAC scores

  • Eastern Michigan (9-6, 2-2) 72, Akron (11-4, 2-2) 60 at Akron.
  • Buffalo (11-4, 3-1) 77, Ball State (6-10, 1-3) 65 at Buffalo.
  • Northern Illinois (10-6, 2-2) 66, Bowling Green (7-8, 0-4) 52 at BG.
  • Toledo (10-5, 2-2) 80, Western Michigan (7-8, 1-3) 57 at Western.

MAC standings

 

 

 

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Flashes, riding a seven-game winning streak, head to 13-1 Ohio Wednesday

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Ali Poole (23), Asiah Dingle (3) and Hannah Young (32) celebrate at KSU’s 58-47 win at Toledo Saturday. (Photo by Austin Mariasy from KSU Twitter feed.)

 

Quite suddenly and remarkably, Kent State has become one of the top four teams in the Mid-American Conferences.

The Flashes are one of two teams with a 3-0 record. Their 58-47 win at Toledo Saturday jumped them 23 spots in the NCAA’s RPI rankings to 73rd. That’s fourth highest in the MAC and the highest for Kent State in at least 10 years.

They are 10-4 overall, their best start since 2010-11, and have won seven straight games.

Before the conference season, KSU was around eighth in the 12-team MAC in five national rankings systems I found. The team was far behind the top six.

Since then, the Flashes have beaten three solid and successively better MAC teams — Eastern Michigan (currently 8-6), Northern Illinois (9-6) and Toledo (9-5). The win at Toledo was especially impressive. The Rockets win 75 percent of their home games. The win made a big different in the RPI, which heavily rewards beating a good team on the road.

The Flashes’ reward:

They travel Wednesday to Ohio, one of the two top teams in the MAC.

The Bobcats are 13-1, losing only to first-place Central Michigan in Athens, 88-70. Their RPI is 51 of 351 Division I teams. They beat Purdue (13-5, RPI 45) at home, 80-73, and Buffalo (10-4, RPI 37) on the road in overtime, 74-71.

Ohio ranks fifth in the country in scoring (83.6 points a game) and 25th in offensive efficiency, accordion to Her Hoop Stats, an analytics site. The Bobcats are 20th in the country in field goal percentage (46.5) and 17th in three-point percentage (38.0). Their 13.9 turnovers per game is 37th lowest in the country.

“3-0 is certainly a good place to be,” coach Todd Starkey said after the Toledo game. “I think it gives us some confidence.

“Our job now is to make sure we don’t get ahead of ourselves. I think we’ve done a good job so far in conference play and taken things one game at a time. We’re just have to they don’t think they’re better than we are yet.

And, the coach emphasized, “We’ve only played three conference games. There is a lot of basketball left.”

Ohio, Starkey said, “is a very good team and can beat you in a lot of different ways.”

Under coach Bob Bolden, the Bobcats have always had a high-powered offense, usually playing four guards. They shoot often and well and far. A total of 36 percent of their shots are three-pointers, the 34th highest percentage in the country.

Top scorer is last year’s MAC freshman of the year, 5-8 guard Cece Hooks, who averages 16.6 points a game. Sophomore forward Gabby Burris averages 15.0 and, at 5-fooot-11, leads the team in rebounding at 5.6 per game. Dominique Doseck, a 5-8 senior guard, leads the league in three-point percentage at 45.5.

Defense isn’t as good. Ohio gives up 65 points per game, seventh in the MAC. Opponents make 39 percent of their shots, sixth in the league, and 32 percent of their three-pointers, which is 10th. The Bobcats’ rebounding margin is minus-2.9, second worst in the MAC.

OU is, however, a very good ball-hawking team. The Bobcats have a turnover margin of plus-eight per game. That’s four better than any other team in the MAC. They lead the league in steals at 11.93 per game.

Kent State has somewhat opposite strengths. The Flashes are second in the league in scoring defense (59.0 per game) and first in field-goal defense (39.0 percent). They are, though, last in three-point field goal defense (32.9).

Although KSU’s offense has improved throughout its winning streak, it’s sixth in the MAC at 67.3 points a game. Its field goal percentage is 10th at 38.2. KSU ranks third in the conference in turnover margin at plus-four.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Before MAC play started, I thought Kent State had very little chance of winning of beating a team like Ohio. The Flashes are still underdogs. Keys are whether Kent’s good defense can slow down Ohio’s outstanding offense and whether the Flashes can score against OU’s average defense. Ohio always plays well at home. But two years ago, Kent State went into Athens with an 8-9 record and handed OU its first home loss of the season, 68-65. The Flashes went on to win the MAC East.

To follow the game

The game starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Convocation Center at Ohio University. It’s a three-hour drive from Kent. Here are directions from the OU website. General admission tickets are $10.

Audio starts at about 6:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. David Wilson does play by play.

Video is through ESPN3. You can watch if you subscribe to ESPN on your cable or satellite system or on the ESPN app. It’s free.

Live statistics are available through the Ohio website.

Links

Kent State women’s website, including links to statistics, roster and more.

Ohio website, including links.

MAC statistics

MAC standings

 

 

 

 

Terrific defense gives Flashes third-straight MAC win at Toledo, 58-47

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Megan Carter fights for position against Toledo Saturday. Carter matched her season high of 22 points in KSU’s seventh-straight victory. (Photo by Austin Mariasy from KSU Twitter feed.)

 

Three days after outscoring one of the best offenses in the Mid-American Conferences, the Kent State women beat one of the league’s best defenses.

The Flashes used outstanding defense of their own to win their third straight MAC game and first on the road over Toledo, 58-47, on Saturday. The victory was KSU’s seventh in a row and brings its record to 10-4. The Flashes are tied for first place with Central Michigan at 3-0.

Toledo is 9-5 and 1-2 in the MAC. The Rockets, which have now lost three straight games to Kent State in Toledo, have won 77 percent of their home games in coach Tricia Cullop’s 11 years there.

Kent State held Toledo 17 points below its scoring average and the Rockets’ shooting percentage 13 points below its average of 43.8. The Flashes lead the league in field-goal defense at 35.2 percent. Toledo is third at 38 percent.

On Wednesday, Kent State had beaten Northern Illinois, the No. 2 scoring team in the conference, 87-78, in Kent.

“I like the versatility,” coach Todd Starkey said. “This team was able to score and defend against Northern Illinois, then come back and win a completely different style game like this.”

You could tell the Toledo game was different very quickly. At the media timeout six minutes into the first quarter, the score was 6-6. The teams had made a combined four of 19 shots.

The Flashes went on to hold Toledo to 18 points in the first half.

“It was an unbelievable effort on defense,” assistant coach Mike McKee said in a postgame interview with David Wilson on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. “The girls were really, really locked in on the scouting report.”

The Flashes’ defensive plan was to keep Toledo from scoring in transition and to limit all-MAC forward Kaayla McIntyre, who had made 58 percent of her shots this  season.

Toledo had one fast-break basket. McIntyre got off 10 shots and made only four.

“We changed our defenses frequently,” Starkey said. “So they didn’t really know if a double team was coming or not. We couldn’t be predictable. With McIntyre, if they know what’s coming, they run action to get her open. And she’s really good.”

Chief defenders on McIntyre were senior Merissa Barber-Smith, who had a career-best three steals, and freshman Lindsey Thall, who had a career-best four blocked shots. Thall leads the MAC in blocks.

Redshirt junior guard Megan Carter equaled her season high of 22 points to lead the Flashes.

“The last couple of games I haven’t been shooting the ball well,” Carter said on EPSN after the game. “During the break, I’ve been in the gym, just trying to refocus and get back to basics and better mechanics.”

It was the third straight game a different player had put up big points for the Flashes. Freshman Asiah Dingle had 29 against Eastern Michigan in Kent’s MAC opener. Junior Ali Poole had 28 against NIU.

“It makes it more difficult to prepare for us when we’re having different players step up every game,” Starkey said. “We’re starting to understand each other’s games and are able to play through different people based on how teams are playing us.”

After Toledo cut the Kent State lead to 34-32 at the end of the third quarter, the Flashes scored the first 13 points of the fourth quarter. Carter hit two three-point shots in that stretch.

Did Starkey tell them to do anything differently?

“They did what they were supposed to do,” he said. “When those things happen, it’s not like they come out of a timeout, and I sprinkle fairy dust on them. It’s a matter of just paying attention to certain things or making an adjustment or two. But in the end, we just start playing a little better.

The Rockets pulled within six points late, but KSU ended the game on a 7-2 run.

The Flashes have dominated the fourth quarter in all three league games, outscoring their opponents by a combined 71-49.

Box score

Notes

  • The seven-game winning streak equals the longest in Starkey’s three years. The team also won seven on its way to the MAC East title in his first season.
  • The last time KSU started the conference season 3-0 was 2010-11. The Flashes won their first five that year and eventually finished 11-5 and second in the East.
  • Kent State made 19 of 54 field goals for 35.2 percent, about 3 points below its average, and six of 16 three-points baskets for 37.5 percent, about 3 points above its average. The Flashes made six of 10 shots and two of three three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
  • KSU’s margin of victory came almost entirely from the foul line. The Flashes made 14 of 20; Toledo five of seven. Toledo point guard Mariella Santucci fouled out and starters McIntyre, Mikaela Boyd and Nakiah Black all finished with four fouls. No Kent player had more than three.
  • Toledo made 10 of 25 layup attempts, an online statistics I hadn’t seen before. Kent made five of 18. KSU had eight assists, its lowest in six games. Senior guard Alexa Golden had half of them.
  • The Flashes committed 14 turnovers, Toledo 18. Both teams scored 11 points off turnovers.
  • Toledo outrebounded KSU 41-39. Golden had seven, Dingle six and Thall five.
  • Sara Rokkanen led Toledo with 12 points on four three-point baskets. She also had eight rebounds. McIntyre had 11 points and five rebounds.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Kent State. The Flashes play at 13-1 Ohio University Wednesday. Ohio, 2-1 in the MAC, beat Ball State (6-9, 1-2 MAC), 90-75 in Muncie on Saturday.

Other MAC scores

  • Central Michigan (12-3, 3-0) 89, Northern Illinois (9-6, 1-2) 66 at Northern.
  • Akron (11-3, 2-1) 74, Bowling Green (7-7, 0-3) 71 at Akron.
  • Buffalo (10-4, 2-1) 66, Miami (10-4, 1-2) 59 at Miami.
  • Eastern Michigan (8-6, 1-2) 64, Western Michigan (7-7, 1-2) 61 at Eastern.

MAC standings

 

 

Six MAC teams are among top 100 in country; conference is 8th of 32 leagues

The Mid-American Conference has six teams in the top 100 in this week’s RPI rankings by the NCAA. I can’t imagine that’s ever happened before.

Here’s what it looks like:

  1. Central Michigan (11-3, 2-0 MAC) 21st.
  2. Buffalo (9-4, 1-1) 47th.
  3. Ohio (12-1, 1-1) 58th.
  4. Toledo (9-4, 1-1) 89th.
  5. Northern Illinois (9-5, 1-1) 92nd.
  6. Kent State (9-4, 2-0) 96th

Then:

  1. Miami (10-3, 1-1) 116th.
  2. Akron (10-3, 1-1) 165th.
  3. Ball State (5-8, 1-1) 195th.
  4. Bowling Green (7-6, 0-2), 203rd.
  5. Eastern Michigan (7-6, 0-2), 217th.
  6. Western Michigan (7-6, 1-1), 292nd.

The NCAA lists 351 Division I teams. (I’ve seen as many as 353 on other sites, which seems strange.)

As a league, the MAC’s RPI ranks eighth in the country, according to WarrenNolan.com. (The NCAA itself doesn’t rank conference.) The MAC is significantly behind the seventh-ranked West Coast Conference, which includes BYU and Gonzaga). It has a solid lead over the No. 9 American Athletic Conference, which includes No. 3 Connecticut and the University of South Florida.

Last year the MAC also ranked eighth in the country in RPI, the best showing in league history. Central Michigan and Buffalo both reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, the first time two teams from a mid-major conference had ever done that. The year before the conference was 10th of 32 Division I leagues. To show how the MAC has improved, it was 18th in 2012-13.

MAC teams’ RPIs may well go up through the conference season because they’re  based on a a team’s record, its opponents’ record and opponents’ opponents record. Road wins and home losses get extra weight.

Because 11 of 12 MAC teams had winning non-conference seasons, ratings may rise as they play each other. For the same reason, the conference ranking is unlikely to change as the season goes on.

 

To the road: 2-0 Flashes head to Toledo for first MAC away game

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Kent State’s Asiah Dingle goes to the floor for a loose ball against Northern Illinois. Dingle leads the team in steals per game at 2.1. (Photo by David Dermer from KSU Twitter feed.)

 

Kent State has passed its first two Mid-American Conferences tests, but the exams keep getting harder.

The Flashes won their first two MAC games at home, both against teams with winning records.

Now they go on the road — always difficult in the MAC — for games against two very good teams.

KSU plays at 9-4 Toledo on Saturday, then travels to 12-1 Ohio for a Wednesday game. The Toledo game starts at 2 p.m. on ESPN3. (Details below.)

The Flashes have won six games in a row and are 9-4 after beating Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois in the first week of the conference season. Their RPI is up to 96, according to the official NCAA rankings. That’s the highest it’s been in long time. The Flashes finished their MAC East title season two years ago at 99. It might have been a little higher before their loss to Toledo in the MAC tournament that year. Before that, I remember their RPI hitting the 30s in the Bob Lindsay-Dawn Zerman-Julie Studer years around 1996-2002.

The MAC has six teams in the top 100 in the NCAA RPI rankings. (See related post.)

Toledo is No. 89 of 351 teams, seven spots ahead of KSU. The Rockets beat 6-8 Ball State 65-58 in Toledo Wednesday and lost to 9-3 Miami 65-64 on the road Saturday. Toledo hosted No. 1 Notre Dame in early December and lost 72-56.

In Toledo, Kent State faces a team opposite statistically than the Northern Illinois squad it beat Saturday. NIU was second in the MAC in scoring and last in defense. Toledo is second in defense (59.4 points a game) and ninth in offense (66.5).

Kent’s numbers are very similar: 68.0 on offense and 59.9 on defense.

The have two returning third-team all-MAC players in 6-2 senior center Kaala McIntyre (15.5 points  and 6.9 rebounds a game) and 5-7 senior guard Mikaela Boyd (9.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and four assists). 5-6 junior guard Mariella Santucci averages 10.2 points and 4.2 assists. Nakiah Black, a 5-10 sophomore guard, has averaged 14 points a game since she cracked the staring lineup four games ago.

McIntyre is second in the conference in field goal percentage (.580) and tied with KSU’s Merissa Barber-Smith for second in blocks at 1.4 a game. Kent’s Lindsey Thall leads the conference in blocks at 1.4.

Kent’s big offensive game agains NIU means the team now has three players averaging in double figuresMegan Carter (14.5), Asiah Dingle (13.8) and Thall (10.5). Ali Poole’s 28 points against Northern put her on the brink at 9.8 points a game.

Kent State beat Toledo at Toledo in the regular season last year, then beat the Rockets on the road in overtime in the first round of the MAC Tournament. The games were easily KSU’s best conferences games. Before last season, the Flashes had lost eight in a row in Toledo.

Two quotes from the NIU game:

KSU COACH TODD STARKEY: “We grew up a little in these last two games. The way we’ve handled the fourth quarter in the last two games has really showed maturity. (The Flashes outscored 28-16 in the last 10 minutes.)

“We looked for transition baskets, and when we didn’t get those looks,we pulled it out and made them play defense. That’s why we won the game.”

NIU COACH LISA CARLSEN, quoted in the DeKalb Daily Chronicle: “We just were not locked in consistently enough on the defensive end. We pride ourselves on taking care of the basketball, and we were soft with the ball tonight. (NIU committed 22 turnovers).

“Kent State played a great game. They were the more physical team, the more aggressive team.”

THE BOTTOM LINE: A month ago Toledo would have been a big favorite. As well as Kent State is playing, it could be a very interesting game. But beating a good team on the road in the MAC is hard. Key likely is which team can play better defense and whether KSU’s freshmen can hold their own against Toledo’s seniors.

To follow the game

The game starts at 2 p.m. Saturday at Savage Arena at the University of Toledo. It’s a simple two-and-a-half hour drive from Kent. Here are Google map directions.  Ticket prices range from $7 to $18.

Audio starts at about 1:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. David Wilson does play by play.

Video is through ESPN3. You can watch if you subscribe to ESPN on your cable or satellite system or on the ESPN app. It’s free.

Live statistics are available through the Toledo website.

Links

Preview from Kent State women’s website, including links to statistics, roster and more.

Detailed media game notes for Kent State.

Preview from Toledo website, including links.

Media notes for Toledo.

Weekly MAC press release, including notes, statistics and standings.

Elsewhere in the MAC Saturday

  • Bowling Green (7-6, 0-2 MAC) at Akron (10-3, 1-1).
  • Central Michigan (11-3, 2-0) at Northern Illinois (9-5, 1-1).
  • Buffalo (9-4, 1-1) at Miami (10-3, 1-1).
  • Ohio (12-1, 1-1) at Ball State (6-8, 1-1).
  • Western Michigan (7-6, 1-1) at Eastern Michigan (7-6, 1-1)

 

Ali Poole’s career-high 28 — including 2 crazy shots — lead KSU to 6th-straight win, 87-78

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A look through the victory bell as Ali Poole (23) leads her team to the ringer. (Photo by Henry Palattella of KentWired)

 

Ali Poole scored a career-high 28 points to lead Kent State to a big 87-78 victory Over Northern Illinois Wednesday, but two of the baskets are ones she’ll remember for a long time.

With four seconds to go in the first half, Poole caught an inbound pass under the basket, dribbled to the top of the key, leaped while kicking her right foot back three feet off the ground, and threw up a shot as time expired.

It must of arced 20 feet into the air, and banked cleanly off the backboard and through the hoop.

Halftime score: Kent State 43, Northern Illinois 41.

“It would have hit the ceiling in my high school gym,” Poole said after the game.

Did she know it had a chance?

“I had just hit two three-point shots,” she said. “I thought I’d try for a third.”

In the fourth quarter, KSU held a 74-69 lead with about four minutes to go and the shot clock expiring. Poole got the ball at the top of the key, twisted the left around an NIU player and tossed it up — and in — again.

“That,” Poole confessed on a postgame radio interview, “was a prayer.”

Nevertheless, Northern never got closer than five points after that as the Flashes played good defense against a team that had ranked 13th in the nation in scoring at 83.1 points a game.

The victory moves Kent State to 2-0 in the MAC and puts them alone in a first-place tie with Central Michigan, which routed previously undefeated Ohio in Athens, 88-70.

Kent and CMU are the only teams not to lose a conference game in the first week. Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green are 0-2. Everyone else is 1-1.

For the season, the Flashes are 9-4 and have won six straight games. Northern Illinois is 9-5 and lost for the first time in six games.

Lots of good video — including Poole buzzer-beater at the end of the first half and a highlight tape — plus photos are on the KSU Twitter feed, @kentstatewbb.

“We knew they were really going to collapse on our drives,” coach Todd Starkey said. “Ali was the one they left open most of the time, and she did a good job of knocking down shots.”

“It’s a lot easier to hit a three when no one’s guarding you,” Poole said.

Poole made 11-of-20 shots and four-of-eight three-pointers, scoring nine points above her previous best game. She had seven rebounds, a block and a steal. She played a career-high 39 of the possible 40 minutes.

Freshman Lindsey Thall also had a career high at 17 points, 13 coming in the first half. She made three-of-five three-point shots, had seven rebounds, an assist and a steal with no turnovers. She blocked two shots and continues to lead the MAC in blocks at 1.5 per game.

Freshman guard Asiah Dingle, who scored 29 in KSU’s win against, also had 17 points with four assists and three steals. Redshirt junior Megan Carter scored 12 points. Senior Alexa Golden had five assists, five rebounds, four steals and a blocked shot. As usual, Golden led the KSU defense, which clinched the game in the fourth quarter.

KSU outscored Northern 28-16 in the last period and held the Huskies to four-of-18 shooting in the quarter. Northern is fourth in the MAC in shooting percentage.

“When it came down to the last five minutes, we really communicated and defended them really well,” Golden said. Communication, she said, means alerting teammates of screens and switches.

During a timeout, Starkey said: “After I made a loud noice with my clipboard and got their attention, we just told them, ‘You do it, and we win. Or you don’t do it, and we lose.'”

Merissa Barber-Smith, KSU’s 6-4 senior center, made a big difference on defense late in the game, the coach said.

“She came up really big with a couple of deflections or steals late,” Starkey said, “and she came up with some big rebounds.” Barber-Smith had four points, five rebounds, two steals and a block in 16 minutes of play.

Box score

Notes

  • The defensive game plan, Starkey said, was to “keep them out of the paint, slow them down in transition, and made them take tough shots.” NIU had 22 points in the paint; Kent State had 30. The Huskies had six fast-break points and scored eight points off of 15 KSU turnovers; the Flashes had 12 fast-break points and 20 points off 22 NIU turnovers.
  • Kent State’s 87 points was its most against a Division I opponent since a wild 98-97 loss to Northern Illinois in Kent in 2017. Its 28 points in the fourth quarter were the fourth most they’ve ever scored in any quarter. College women’s basketball switched from halves to quarters in 2015.
  • The victory was Starkey’s first against NIU, which had beaten Kent State three straight times. The only teams Starkey hasn’t beaten in his three years are Central Michigan and Ball State.
  • Kent State made 29 of its 67 shots for 43.3 percent. That’s about 5 points above its average. Northern made 28 of 63 for 44.4 percent.
  • Rebounding was even at 37. The Flashes outrebounded NIU 14-5 in the fourth quarter. Kent State had 15 assists on 29 baskets.
  • NIU’s Mikayla Voigt, the league’s No. 2 scorer, led Northern with 26 points, four assists and three steals. She played all 40 minutes.
  • Attendance was listed at 215, about as low as I can remember.

The Flashes play their first MAC road game Saturday at 9-4 Toledo, which lost 65-64 at Miami Wednesday.

Other MAC scores

Central Michigan (11-3) 88, Ohio (12-1) 70 at Ohio.

Akron (10-3) 72, Western Michigan (7-6) 59 at Western.

Ball State (6-8) 77, Bowling Green (7-6) 70 at Ball State.

Buffalo (9-4) 91, Eastern Michigan (7-6) 84 in overtime at Eastern.

Miami (10-3) 65, Toledo (9-4) 64 at Miami.

MAC standings

 

High-scoring Northern Illinois is Wednesday home challenge for Flashes

bench cheers

Cheers from the bench during the Flashes’ 71-64 win over Eastern Michigan. Closest planer is sophomore forward Monique Smith. Two behind her is Hannah Young. Coach in background is Mike McKee.  (Photo by Austin Mariasy)

 

The women’s team passed Test No. 1 when it beat Eastern Michigan in its MAC home opener.

Eastern was the second winning team the Flashes have beaten this season, a team that had the same record (7-4) as Kent going into the game, and a team it had to beat to have a serious chance at a .500 record int he conference.

Test 2 on Wednesday will be harder.

The Flashes host a Northern Illinois team with a better record (9-4 to KSU’s 8-4) and better RPI (81 to Kent’s 114, of 351 teams).

NIU is on a five-game winning streak, with all the victories coming at home. KSU also has won five in a row, three on the road and the last two at home. Both teams are coming off solid home victories; The Flashes beat 7-5 Eastern Michigan 71-64 in Kent; the Huskies beat 8-3 Miami in DeKalb, 82-73.

The fact that the game is in Kent is a plus for the Flashes. Northern hasn’t won away from home this season, losing at Power 5 opponents Iowa State and Indiana and dropping neutral-site games against Montana (7-5, RPI 71) and Southern Illinois (8-5, RPI 152).

Kent State is 5-1 at home, including wins over Youngstown State (10-3, RPI 106) and Eastern (7-5, RPI 212).

Northern Illinois plays a style like nothing the Flashes have seen so far this season. The Huskies average 83.3 points a game, second in the MAC and 13th in the country. But they don’t play much defense; their average of 72.7 points a game is last in the MAC. Since coach Lisa Carlson arrived at NIU four years ago, her strategy pretty much been to just try to outscore the opposition.

From coach Todd Starkey, as quoted by the Record-Courier’s Allen Moff:

“They are relentless offensively. Everybody can shoot, everybody can pass. They play incredibly hard and are very efficient in transition. If you hold them under 80 points, you have a chance. If not, you’re trying to outscore a team that’s really good at winning those types of games. They’re a lot for a young team to handle. We’ll see what we’re made of for sure.”

Senior Mikayla Voigt averages 21.6 points a game for Northern. She set a Mid-American Conference single-game scoring record when she had 52 points against Western Illinois in December. Voigt, a 5-9 guard, is second in the conference in points per game, sixth in three-point percentage (44.1), tied for first in three-pointers a game (3.8), 11th in field-goal percentage (47.8), fifth in free-throw percentage (85.7) and 18th in rebounding (4.4).

“Voigt, the last several games, has been unreal.,” Starkey said.

NIU’s next best scorer is 5-11 sophomore guard Gabby Nikitinaite at 12.5 points per game and 5-4 point guard Myia Starks at 11.5. Leading rebounder is 6-2 junior forward Ally May, who has averaged 11.5 rebounds in her last two games and 7.5 for the season.

Courtney Woods, the Huskies leading scorer last season, was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered against Nevada on Dec. 2. At the time, she was averaging 20.1 points a game.

Northern is fourth in the conference in shooting percentage (43.1) and seventh in three-point percentage (31.8).

Kent State’s defense is first in the MAC in field-goal defense and 11th in three-point defense (32.1).

Freshman point guard Asiah Dingle moved up to 16th in the conference in scoring at 13.6 points a game with her 29-point performance against Eastern Michigan. Junior guard Megan Carter is 13th at 14.7 after scoring just four points in the EMU game.

Senior Merissa Barber-Smith is sixth in the MAC in rebounding at 7.1 a game, Carter is 10th in free-throw percentage at 76.7 and Dingle fifth in steals at 2.2. Freshman forward Lindsey Thall leads the conference in blocks per game at 1.5; Barber-Smith is tied for second at 1.4.

BOTTOM LINE: Expect one of Kent’s highest scoring games of the year, both on offense and defense. Key is whether KSU’s defense — its strength all year — can hold down the Huskies. NIU likely will game plan against Dingle. Whether she can still score — and whether Carter can bounce back in scoring — will make a big difference.

To follow the game

The game starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the M.A.C. Center. Reserved seat tickets are $10, general admission $5. KSU students get in free with their ID.

Audio starts at about 6:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. Jacob Pavilack is the announcer.

Video is through ESPN3. You can watch if you subscribe to ESPN on your cable or satellite system or on the ESPN app. It’s free. David Wilson and Mike Elkins are the announcers.

Live statistics are available through the KSU website.

Links

Preview from Kent State women’s website, including links to statistics, roster and more.

Detailed media game notes for Kent State.

Preview from Northern Illinois website, including links.

Media notes for Northern Illinois.

In case you missed it, here are the wbbFlashes “Keys to the MAC “Season,” a detailed look on where the team stands.

The MAC’s big game

Ohio (12-0), one of three undefeated teams left in the country, hosts Central Michigan (10-3), the preseason MAC favorite and highest RPI team in the conference, on Wednesday. It should be quite a game, though it would be hard to be better than OU’s 74-71 overtime win at 8-4 Buffalo Saturday.

Elsewhere in the league, it’s:

  • Akron (9-3, 0-1) at Western Michigan (7-5, 1-0).
  • Bowling Green (7-5, 0-1) at Ball State (5-8, 0-1).
  • Buffalo (8-4, 0-1) at Eastern Michigan (7-5, 0-1).
  • Toledo (9-3, 1-0_ at Miami (9-3, 0-1).

MAC statistics

MAC standings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind a spectacular game by Asiah Dingle, Flashes beat EMU, 71-64

dingle vs emu (1)

KSU’s Asiah celebrates on her way to 29 points and KSU’s first MAC win. (Photo by David Dermer from KSU website.)

 

In the middle of the first quarter, Kent State coach Todd Starkey shouted to freshman point guard Asiah Dingle:

Down hill. Every time.”

Dingle did exactly what he asked for 39 minutes on Saturday.

She drove to the basket almost at will, scored 29 points, stole the ball five times and had two assists. She grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots. (She’s all of 5-foot-5). All but the assists were the highest in her short career.

Her performance led the Flashes to a 71-64 victory over Eastern Michigan in their Mid-American Conference opener. The Flashes are now 8-4 on the season and, obviously, tied with five other teams for first in the MAC at 1-0.

Dingle had averaged 12 points a game, second on the team, with a high of 17.

What happened to create such a break-out game?

“Me and coach had a talk,” she said in a postgame interview, looking at the Starkey to see how much she should say. He continued the conversation.

“We just talked about how she’s talented enough to be one of the best players in the conference,” Starkey said, “but not without playing hard every moment. 

“So she did it. She played with great focus and intensity and confidence.”

And what does “down hill” mean?

“Beat your defender,” Dingle said.

And how does she do that?

“I catch the defense off guard,” she said. “I, like, trick them into doing something, and then I get a split second. and get that first step.”

Then it’s “Just stop me,” she said.

To Starkey, “down hill” means “Get the ball and drive at the basket until they stop you.”

In one of his conversations with Dingle, Starkey told her: “You have to let me be hardest on our best lawyers, and you’re our most talented. And so I’m not going to give you any room. I’m going to keep coaching you, and how you accept that coaching is going to determine what your season looks like.

“She took that to heart, and the way she played today…that’s what we expect from her.”

Dingle’s 29 points were the most for any Kent player this season. Her game was the best by a Kent State point guard since the Flashes had Dawn Zerman, who led two MAC championship teams between 1996 and 2000 and probably is the best point guard in KSU history. Dingle was the Boston Globe’s player of the year her senior yearand led her high school team to three state championships.

“She could have had 40,” Starkey said, moving into his “what we need to do better mode.”

He said Dingle could have made five or six more layups on her drives. (She was 10 of 22 shooting.)

“We missed 12 layups in the first half, and more in the second,” he said. “We had too many turnovers (10) in the first half.”

The Flashes went ahead 22-10 after a quarter.

Then, Starkey said,”We let our foot off the gas, started turning the ball over and not finishing plays. Everybody in this league will pounce on that and will be able to get back in the game.

“That’s one of the things this young team will have to learn — that every possession matters even when you’re up by 12 early.”

The Flashes played a very young line-up Saturday. At times, they had four freshmen on the floor in a close game. Second leading scorer was freshman forward Lindsey Thall, who had 14 points, one off her high. Thall, who is 6-foot-2, also blocked four shots, three in the first quarter.

“It’s not great leaping ability,” Starkey said. “She’s just got really good timing. She keeps her hands up and makes players shoot the ball into her hands.

“She’s really developed defensively since she’s been here. That’s where I’m most proud of her.”

Thall made four-of-six three-point shots. She leads the team in three-point baskets with 22. Next step, she and Starkey said, is to score elsewhere.

“Coach says I’m easy to guard because people will just find me trying to get three-point shots,” Thall said. “But if I get more looks inside, then I can help my team to open up other things.”

Senior Alexa Golden hit three three-point shots, had nine rebounds and four assists. She led a defense that held held Eastern’s three leading scorers, who had averaged a total of 40 points a game, to 25. Golden played all 40 minutes.

After KSU’s overpowering 22-10 first quarter,  Eastern pulled to within 35-32 at halftime and led 49-48 at the end of the third quarter. But behind 13 points from Dingle, the Flashes reclaimed the game in the fourth quarter. They outscored Eatern 7-2 in the first five minutes and eventually built a lead as big as 10.

Box score

Notes

  • The game was pretty much the way Starkey has wanted the team to play since practice started. The Flashes made his goal of 70 points, scored in transition (21 fast-break points), had assists on 14 or 24 baskets and shot pretty well, especially in the first and fourth quarters.
  • Kent State made a season-high 12 three-point baskets with a season-high 54.5 percent three-point shooting (12 of 22). Overall the team shot 38.7 percent, about a point ahead of its average. Combined shooting percentage for the first and fourth quarter was 48 percent. For the second and third, it was 30 percent.
  • KSU has the best field-goal defensive percentage in the league and EMU the worst field-goal offense. On Saturday, Eastern made 33.8 percent of its shots, about a point below KSU’s defensive average and about 2 points below the Eagles’ offensive average.
  • Other scorers for Kent State were Ali Poole, who had seven, including two three-pointers and Merissa Barber-Smith and Megan Carter had four. Carter, Kent State’s leading scorer, struggled all night and didn’t make a field goal. Barber-Smith also had six rebounds in 12 minutes, keeping up her 0.5-rebound per minute pace. That seems to be the best in the MAC (it’s a very unofficial statistics). Freshman Mariah Modkins had three points.
  • Dingle’s 29 points were the most by a KSU freshman since Ellie Shields scored 31 vs. Toledo on Jan. 30, 2008.
  • Both teams committed 17 turnovers. Eastern scored 13 off of Kent’s; KSU had 12.
  • Kent State’s eight blocked shots tied for second best in the MAC this season. The Flashes lead the league in blocks per game at 4.0. Thall’s four moved her into the league lead at 1.5 a game. Barber-Smith, who didn’t block a shot for the first time in eight games, is second at 1.4.
  • It was the third straight game the Flashes have beaten Eastern by seven points. Starkey has won all five of his games against the Eagles. Before he arrived in Kent, KSU had lost 11 straight.
  • Attendance was first listed at 390, then changed to about 1,400 in final box score. There were probably about that number when game started, but crowd grew steadily as men’s game approached.
  • Lots of good photos and video of the game are on the KSU Twitter feed (@KentStateWbb) and photographer David Dermer’s feed (@DavidDermerPix).

The Flashes play at home again Wednesday against Northern Illinois (9-4), which beat 9-3 Miami 82-71 in DeKalb. Game time is 7 p.m.

Other MAC scores

  • Ohio stayed undefeated at 12-0 with a 74-71 overtime victory at Buffalo (8-4). The Bobcats held Buffalo’s Cierra Dillard, the country’s second-leading scorer, 10 points below her 25-point average.
  • Akron (9-3) led defending league champion Central Michigan by eight points after the first quarter. But Central dominated the rest of the game to win, 94-71, Central is 10-3 and plays at Ohio on Wednesday.
  • Western Michigan (7-6) beat Bowling Green (7-5) at BG, 84-82.
  • Toledo (9-3) beat Ball State (5-8) in Toledo, 65-58.

MAC standings

 

Flashes open MAC season at home against Eastern Michigan, also 7-4

2019 huddleThe Flashes’ huddle. (File photo from KSU website.)

Can a team have a “must-win” game in its conference opener?

For Kent State, beating Eastern Michigan is almost essential to making the first division of the Mid-American Conference this season.

Both the Flashes and Eastern have 7-4 records. KSU is higher in every national ranking system I can find. It’s a home game for the Flashes. Kent beat EMU twice last year, though the Flashes are such a different team, that doesn’t count for much.

And it’s likely not going to be easy.

“There are no easy wins in the MAC,” KSU coach Todd Starkey has said often. “The league is as good top to bottom as it’s every been.”

The game is at 5 p.m. at the M.A.C. Center. It’s the first game of a doubleheader with the KSU men, who play Bowling Green a half hour after the women finish. One ticket gets you in both games.

Like Kent State, Eastern is coming off a win over a Division II school, Northwood, 53-39. The Flashes beat Clarion 92-38 on Monday. Eastern, like KSU, has beaten only one team with a winning record; that was Illinois State (6-4) in its opener. No other team the Eagles have won against is better than 2-12. Their best game was a 72-66 loss at Illinois Dec. 1 and a 73-63 loss to Butler (12-1) Dec.21.

KSU beat 9-3 Youngstown State, 62-34. Next best record for a defeated opponent is 3-10.

Kent’s RPI is 140 (of 351 teams), according to WarrenNolan.com. Eastern’s is 221.

Eastern’s 7-4 record is the best in the three years of coach Fred Castro, who was a highly regarded assistant coach at the University of Washington before EMU hired him. Castro has had two of the MAC’s best recruiting classes in two years. Last season the Eagles surprisingly were in the first division of the MAC for half the season but faded toward the end.

As it usually does, Eastern plays tough pressure defense. The Eagles are second in the conference in field goal defense at 35.4 percent. (Kent State is first at 34.9.) Eastern in third in the MAC in steals (9.55 per game) (KSU is 8.55) and has a plus-2.82 turnover margin. (KSU’s is plus-4.09.)

The teams are 11th and 12 in the conference in assists and assist-to-turnover margin and among the worst in scoring and shooting percentage.

Top Eastern scorers are three guards — 5-8 redshirt sophomore Corrione Cardwell  (14.6 points per game), 5-8 redshirt senior Danielle Minott (13.5) and 5-10 sophomore Courtnie Lewis (11.6). Cardwell is averaging 10 points more than she did as a freshman. Minott was Eastern’s leading scorer last season and a preseason all-MAC West selection. Lewis made last year’s all-freshman and third–team all-MAC teams.

Top rebounder is 6-1 redshirt senior forward Lorraine Enabulele at 6.3 per game. Freshman point guard Jenna Annecchiarico. a 5-5 four-star recruit from New York, leads the MAC and is third in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.8). (Kent’s best is Alexa Golden at 1.05.) Annecchiarico averages 5.2 assists per game, eighth in the league.

Keys to the game simply seem to be (1) which team wins the turnover battle and (2) which team shoots better.

To follow the game

The game starts at 5 p.m. Saturday at the M.A.C. Center. Reserved seat tickets are $10, general admission $5. S KSU students get in free. Your women’s ticket also gets you into the KSU men’s game against Bowling Green, which follows the women’s.

Video is through ESPN3. You can get if you subscribe to ESPN on your cable or satellite system or on the ESPN app. David Wilson is the play-by-play  announcer.

Audio starts at about 4:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. Jacob Pavilack is the announcer.

Live statistics are available through the KSU website.

Links

Preview from Kent State women’s website, including links to statistics, roster and more.

Detailed media game notes for Kent State.

Preview from Eastern Michigan website, including links.

Media notes for Eastern Michigan.

MAC statistics

MAC standings

In case you missed it, here are the wbbFlashes Keys to the MAC season, a detailed look on where the team stands now.

 

 

 

 

 

Keys to the MAC season: Five things Kent State needs to do to compete

KSU’s leading scorers: Junior Megan Carter (15.6 points per game) and freshman Asiah Dingle (12.0 points per game). (File photos from KSU website)

 

The women’s basketball team enters Mid-American Conference play Saturday with a 7-4 record, tied for eighth best in that MAC. That’s also about where various national ranking systems place them.

Last year at this point, the Flashes were 7-5, then went 5-13 in conference play and finished 10th in the league.

Two years ago, KSU was 5-7, then surprised everyone and won the MAC East with a 13-5 record.

So which will it be this year? The Flashes have some very good young players and some some solid upperclassmen. They also are unproven against MAC-quality teams and have struggled to score.

I’ve watched this team for two months and still am not sure how good it is. I do know it’s completely different from the last two years. Those teams had very experienced line-ups. This year’s team starts two freshmen, and two more are among its top eight players. Those teams had a strong post player in all-MAC forward Jordan Korinek. There’s no one like her on current team.

But this year’s team is faster, more athletic and — though the statistics don’t show it — probably a better-shooting team.

But the MAC competition is going to be better than the non-conference schedule. The Flashes have beaten only one team with a winning record (Youngstown State, now 8-3, which they routed 62-34). No other school KSU has beaten has won more than three games. Every team in the MAC except Ball State has a winning record. Five teams are in the top 100 in the country in RPI.

I’d be happy with a .500 MAC record. Here are my keys to the Flashes doing than — or better.

1, 2, and 3: Score more points

In his preseason press conference, coach Todd Starkey said he wanted his team to average than 70 points a game. Without that, Starkey said “62 points probably will put us right squarely at 5-13 again in the league.” (That was last year’s scoring average and last year’s MAC record.)

In 10 non-conference games against Division I opponents, the Flashes averaged 63.4. They scored more than 70 only three times. 70 would be slightly above average for the league. Five teams average more than 73; seven average fewer than 67.

KSU’s shooting percentage against Division I competition schools is 36.3. (I don’t think it gives a fair picture if we count the 92-38 shellacking of Division II Clarion, when KSU made 52 percent of its shots.)

That is 10th in the MAC, a full 5 percentage points below the conference average. It’s 2 percentage points below last year’s team, which was ninth in the league in shooting. So how does KSU do better?

A. Shoot better — at least 40 percent.

How? Starkey says the team needs to (1) Score more in transition and (2) run the offense better.

“The goal is to get out and score before they can get their defense set up,” Starkey said. The Flashes have pushed the ball; there’s be very little walking it up the court. But they haven’t scored a lot of points doing it. Over the last five games, when KSU is 3-2, it has scored an average of about eight points a game on fast breaks, loosely defined as scoring without setting up the offense. Worst case was the 57-40 win over NJIT, when Kent had 10 steals and outrebounded the Highlanders 47-40 — and four fast-break points.

The Flashes have the speed to run — freshman point guard Asiah Dingle, for example, can look like a force of nature in the open court. But so far, it hasn’t happened consistently.

Starkey says the young team is still figuring out how college offense works.

“These players are still learning how to play together,” he said. “It’s a different thing when you have one or two freshmen that are playing major minutes, but we have four. That mix of things can throw some things off. They don’t know what to look for.”

Some players, he said, are “falling victim to the scouting report.”

“It’s new to many of them,” he said, “and they’re learning to understand that teams are going to know what their strengths are, and they’re going to try to take them away.”

The Clarion game was an example of what could be. Against Division II competition, the Flashes had 17 steals and scored 32 fast-break points. When they were in their half-court offense, Starkey called out play after play and the Flashes made 52 percent of their shots, a season high.

Whether that can translate to MAC play is something we’ll see starting Saturday.

B. Pass the ball

The Flashes are dead last in the conference in assists at 10.3 a game. Her Hoop Stats, an analytic wensite, says 47.7 percent of KSU’s scoring comes off of assists. That’s 313th of 351 Division I teams.

It’s certainly one reason the offense isn’t working well some of the time. The team is obviously working on that. KSU made it a point of emphasis between wins against Robert Morris and Saint Bonaventure. Assists went from eight to 15, and KSU scored its most points of the season against a Division I opponent.

One reason for the lack of assists is a different style of play. Much of last year’s offense was getting the ball to Korinek in the post. Leading scorers this year are guards Dingle and Megan Carter, who are excellent at creating their own shots off the dribble or through drives to the basket. But they’ve held the ball too much at times this season — “we’re been working on getting the ball out of their hands quickly,” Starkey said after one game. Both players can be good passers; they do lead the team in assists.

C. More players must score more

Carter (15.6 points per game) and Dingle (12.0) are the only players averaging in double figures. Freshman forward Lindsey Thall is almost there at 9.6.

It’s hard to reach 70 points at those levels. Starkey has said he’s comfortable with Carter at 15 or 16. So where’s the additional scoring going to come from?

Dingle certainly has the potential to score five more points a game. Thall could go up four or five. After that, it’s going to have to be starters Ali Poole (currently 8.3) and Alexa Golden (6.3) moving toward double digits. If the Flashes could get six or seven points a game out of rebounding machine Merissa Barber-Smith (she currently averages 2.6 points), it could change the way teams defend Kent State. Freshman Mariah Modkins (5.4) and Hannah Young (4.8) can score off the bench. Young scored 1,998 points in high school.

KSU’s team of two years ago didn’t win the MAC East just because Larissa Lurken averaged 23 points a game. She already was going into the conference season. The Flashes came together when Korinek, Carter and McKenna Stephens stepped up their games in the second half of the season.

4. Reduce turnovers at guard

For the first time in seven years, Kent State has a positive turnover margin. It’s plus-4.09, fourth in the MAC, compared with minus-3.78 last year. The Flashes are still committing turnovers — 16 a game, ninth in the conference and about one-and-a-half fewer than last season. But they’re forcing more — up about six a game from last year.

But Carter and Golden lead the Flashes in turnovers. Their combined assist-to-turnover ratio is 0.77. The top ball handlers in the league have an average of better  than 2.0. Five teams in the MAC has assist-to-turnover ratios over more than 1.05.

As we said before, the offense runs through Carter and Dingle. So they have the ball more and therefore more opportunities to turn it over. They’re both aggressive, and when a player is too aggressive, she can force plays that aren’t there.

The two guards are the heart of the team. The Flashes need their scoring; they also need their not costing the team so many possessions.

5. Keep playing good defense

If the offense hasn’t produced the points we hoped for, the defense has exceeded expectations. 

KSU leads the conference in field goal defense. Opponents have made just 34.9 percent of their shots. Last season the percentage was 41.4. The Flashes are allowing 57.9 points a game, fourth best in the MAC.

“This is a more athletic group, especially on the perimeter,” Starkey said.

“This year we’ve had people that have bought into defense,” said Golden, the team’s best defender.

Dingle and Modkins have extremely quick hands. Modkins, who is just 5 feet tall, can harass an opponent’s point guard like no Kent player I’ve seen in 15 years. And having the 6-4 Barber-Smith in the middle can change an opponent’s offense. She leads the MAC in blocked shots despite just playing 16 minutes a game.

The bottom line

So how many games can the Flashes win in the MAC?

My prediction is seven to 11, which is a pretty big range in an 18-game season. Here’s how I get there.

If the season isn’t a complete disaster, the /flashes have to beat Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Akron and Bowling Green in Kent. All rank below the Flashes in RPI. That’s four wins.

I see six games they have a solid chance to win: Those four teams away, Northern Illinois at home, and Ball State away. Say they win four of those. That’s a total of eight.

I could see KSU upsetting Miami here or away and maybe winning at Toledo.

It would be a significant upset if Kent State beat Ohio (11-0), Central Michigan (9-3) or Buffalo (8-3). All are potential NCAA tournament teams. Kent isn’t there yet.

So that’s eight wins. Win four of the “decent chance” games or beat Miami or Toledo. Or pull a big upset. That would be .500 or better. One more win is a .500 MAC season.

We’ll get a good idea very soon. The Flashes play Eastern Michigan Saturday and Northern Illinois Wednesday. Both games are in Kent.

And, by the way:

Could the Flashes contend for a MAC title? I’d be surprised. But who knows? KSU surprised all of us two years ago.

KSU non-conference statistics

MAC non-conference statistics

MAC standings

Her Hoop Stats for Kent State

The wbbFlashes preview of the MAC season