MAC looks strong again, with Central Michigan and Ohio leading the way

Women’s basketball in the  Mid-American Conference had its best season in history last year. This year’s could be as good.

The MAC ranked eighth among the 33 Division I leagues in RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com, the ratings service I use most. Central Michigan and Buffalo reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, the first time any mid-major conference had done that. It was the first time in 20 years two MAC teams had made the tournament. Five MAC teams, led by CMU (15) and Buffalo (20)  had RPIs in the top 100 in the country.

As conference play begins this week, the MAC ranks ninth in RPI. It’s very close behind the American Athletic Conference, which is eighth and includes No. 1 Connecticut. The American Athletic is considerably weaker than the MAC from about fourth place down.

Five MAC teams are again in the top 100: Central (44), Buffalo (58), Ohio (61), Toledo (82) and Northern Illinois (90).

Warning: the rest of this post in really number heavy and wonky. Skip to the bulleted rankings to see the bottom line on the conference.

MAC teams won 67 percent of their non-conference games, seventh best in the country. Ohio (11-0) is among seven  undefeated teams in the country. Only Ball State (5-7) has a record below .500.

Non-conference records are Ohio (11-0), Akron and Miami (9-2), Central Michigan (9-3), Buffalo and Toledo (8-3), Northern Illinois (8-4) Kent State, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan (7-4), Western Michigan (6-5) and Ball State (5-7).

Records include all games. All other ratings system don’t count games against non-Division I teams.

The conference has four teams — more than any other league — in the CollegeInsider’s Top 25. Ohio, CMU and Buffalo are 5, 6 and 7. Toledo is 23.

Perhaps most important for the chance of getting two bids to the tournament again, MAC teams have some quality wins, something that wasn’t true last year until Central and Buffalo knocked off rated teams in the NXAA tournament.

CMU beat then-No. 24 Miami of Florida (RPI 39) on Miami’s floor, 90-80. The Chippewas beat Central Florida (19 RPI) in Mount Pleasant, 75-68. They took No. 3 Louisville to the final minute before losing 72-68 at home.

Buffalo beat mid-major power South Dakota State (34 RPI). 61-55 in a Thanksgiving tournament, and lost at home to No. 8 Stanford (10-1, RPI 4), 62-55.

Ohio beat Purdue (10-5), RPI 73). 80-73, and Lamar (3-4 and strangely No 26 in the RPI apparently because of two wins over highly ranked teams), 87-62.

Toledo beat Belmont (RPI 46), another strong mid-major, on the road and lost to No. 2 Notre Dame by 16 at home.

Rankings are all from the most recent AP Poll, which obviously doesn’t always track with the RPI. That system is based 25 percent on a team’s record, 25 percent on its opponents’ records, and 50 percent on its opponents’ opponents’ record. Road wins and home losses are rated heavily.

The biggest thing going against the MAC statistically is strength of schedule. As a whole, the league ranks 26th of 33 conferences. Only Central Michigan (65) is in the top 100.

Undefeated Ohio is 299. Akron and Miami (both 9-2) are over 300. So are Eastern Michigan (316) and Western Michigan (342). That’s out of 351 teams. So Western had the ninth easiest schedule in the country and is still only 5-5 against Division I opponents.

I averaged five rating systems to compare MAC teams, giving a team one point for first, two for second, etc. The results were pretty consistent. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Ohio (10)
  • Central Michigan (10)
  • Buffalo (18)
  • Toledo (19)
  • Miami (27)
  • Northern Illinois (28)
  • Kent State (37)
  • Akron (37)
  • Bowling Green (44)
  • Eastern Michigan (49)
  • Ball State (51)
  • Western Michigan (56)

The five systems were:

Record (see above).

RPI, which ranks teams like this:

  • Central Michigan (44 nationally): Buffalo (58), Ohio (61), Toledo (82), Northern Illinois (90), Miami (131), Kent State (152), Bowling Green (154), Akron (207), Eastern Michigan (222), Ball State (235), Western Michigan (435).

Her Hoop Stats, a really interesting analytics site that rates teams based on its own offensive and defensive ratings.

  • Rankings: Central Michigan (33 nationally), Ohio (52), Buffalo (64), Toledo (91), Miami (99), Northern Illinois (100), Kent State (100), Bowling Green (133), Akron (161), Eastern Michigan (175), Ball State (223), Western Michigan (294).

Elo rankings, which are based on a complicated system of head-to-head competition. Teams get points for winning, especially against higher-ranked opponents. Here’s Wikipedia’s explanation.

  • Rankings: Central Michigan (25 nationally), Ohio (43), Toledo (51), Buffalo (59), Kent State (121), Northern Illinois (122), Ball State (149), Miami (163), Western Michigan (174), Akron (187), Bowling Green (215), Eastern Michigan (245).

WbbFlashes’ own system, which gives points for wins against RPI-ranked teams: Four points for the top-ranked 50, three points for 51-100, two points for 101- to 200, one point for 300 and above.

  • Rankings: Central Michigan (21), Ohio (19), Toledo (14), Buffalo and Northern Illinois (12), Miami (11), Akron (8), Kent State and Eastern Michigan (7), Bowling Green and Ball State (6), Western Michigan (5).

Some of the rankings, especially RPI and Her Hoop Stats, change daily. So don’t hold me to the precise numbers.

Later in the week, we’ll look at each team and give our keys to the conference season for Kent State.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flashes pummel Division II Clarion 92-38 in largest margin in 23 years

Golden and Brinlee (1)

Alexa Golden (24) and Sydney Brinlee on the break for Kent State against Clarion. Flashes had a season-best 32 fast-break points. (Photo by Austin Mariasy from KSU website.)

 

Monday’s game against Clarion had been likely to be a rout since it went on Kent State’s schedule, and it was. Perhaps times two.

The Flashes beat their Division II opponent 92-38 in their largest margin of victory since 1996. It was KSU’s highest point total of the season by far, the second time the Flashes’ had held an opponent below 40 points and the fourth time they’ve held a team below 50.

The victory ends the Flashes’ non-conference schedule with a 7-4 record, tied with four teams for the seventh best in the MAC. KSU was 7-5 in non-league games last season and 5-7 in coach Starkey’s first year in 2016-17, when the team went on to win the MAC East.

The game counted as an exhibition for Clarion, which remains officials at 7-5 against Division II competition.

Starkey said the team’s goals were the same as any other game — play intensely, get off to a good start and score in transition. Asked how the Flashes graded, the coach simply answered:

“What was the score at the end of the first quarter?”

It was 26-4.

With 30 seconds to go in the quarter, it was 24-1. With three minutes to go, it was 19-0.

“I thought it was a good performance and a good start for us,” Starkey said. Heading into the conference opener against Eastern Michigan Saturday, the team is “about where we deserve to be,” he said. He said KSU had chances to win games against North Carolina, Duquesne and Wright State but was fortunate to win some close games, such as a 62-61 win over Northern Kentucky.

Everyone in uniform played at least eight minutes for Kent State. For freshman Annie Pavlansky and sophomore Margaux Eibel, that was more time than the rest of the season combined. Pavlansky’s two baskets were the first points of her college career.

“We came into this game talking about, ‘Don’t be selfish,’ and get to the bench and let them play,” redshirt junior guard Megan Carter said. “We just wanted to play for them so they can get minutes.”

Carter led four Kent State players in double figures with 15 points. Senior Alexa Golden and freshman Hannah Young had 13 and senior Merissa Barber-Smith 11. The totals were career highs for Barber-Smith and Young.

Three other players had at least eight points for the Flashes.

Kent State spent most of the game on offense working on things that hadn’t gone well through its first 10 games. KSU went into the game averaging 63 points a game; Starkey’s goal for the season is to average 70.

With Starkey calling plays from the sidelines, the Flashes must have gone through at least 80 percent of their playbook. They scored about every way they could, setting season highs in points (92), field goals made (33), field-goal percentage (52.4), three-point baskets (11), three-point percentage (46), fast-break points (32), assists (18) and steals (17).

“You go back to basics and execute your offense,” Golden said. “Our offense works if we run it the right way.”

Box score

Notes

  • The 54-point margin of victory was third highest in school history. Biggest was 91-25 over Muskingum in 1979. Second was 88-29 over Coppin State in 1996.
  • Seven other MAC teams played Division II opponents since Saturday. Kent’s margin of victory was the biggest (second was Miami over Ohio Dominican 74-29) and second highest point total (highest was in Ball State’s 99-62 win over Urbana). The MAC won all of the games by comfortable margins.
  • The last time Kent State scored 90 points was in a 98-97 loss to Northern Illinois in 2017.
  • Kent State held Clarion to 25.5 percent shooting, the fourth time this season KSU has held an opponent under 30 percent. Clarion took only seven three-point shots, making four. That’s the fewest attempts for a Kent opponent this season. Clarion had averaged 14.1 attempts per game.
  • The Flashes outrebounded Clarion 47-30, led by seven from Barber-Smith and Young. Barber-Smith, who leads the MAC I’m blocks per game, had two Monday.
  • Kent State scored a season-high 29 points off 25 Clarion turnovers. Young and Golden both had three steals. Clarion got 12 points from 14 KSU turnovers.

MAC notes

  • Central Michigan (9-3) beat No. 24 Miami (Florida) 90-80 Sunday in Miami’s own holiday tournament. On Friday, Central had lost to 10-3 Tulane 68-57, scoring its fewest points and shooting its lowest percentage of the season.
  • Ohio capped an 11-0 non-conference schedule — the best start in school history — with a 77-67 win at American (4-7).
  • Northern Illinois (8-4) beat Brown (6-7) 109-102 Monday in double overtime.
  • Other top records in the league are Akron and Miami at 9-2, Buffalo and Toledo at 8-3.

I’ll be doing a number of posts on the MAC this week as the Flashes prepare for their conference opener. That game is at 5 p.m. Friday, the first of a doubleheader with the men, who play Bowling Green.

An earlier headline on this story said it was the most points in 33 years. I couldn’t  subtract. It was 23 years ago — 1996 — when the Flashes last won by a bigger margin.

 

Flashes host Division II Clarion at noon Monday in final non-conference game

Korinek visits (1)

KSU alum Jordan Korinek (fourth in back row) visited a Flashes’ practice this week. Korinek, a two-time academic All-American for KSU, was home for the holidays from Greece, where she is playing professional basketball. (Photo from KSU Twitter feed)

 

Kent State returns to the M.A.C Center this week for a Monday tune-up against Division II Clarion and its Mid-American Conference opener Saturday against Eastern Michigan.

The Clarion game — at noon on New Year’s Eve — is the first game of a doubleheader with the KSU men, who play Oberlin a half hour after the women’s game end. One ticket gets you in both games.

The Clarion game is also the Flashes’ first regular-season game against a Division II team in coach Todd Starkey’s three years here. In a preseason interview, Starkey said the team needed a game after Christmas before the conference season, and most Division I teams didn’t have a spot on their schedule at that point.

It’s also a game to shake the rust off. The Flashes haven’t played since a 57-40 victory over NJIT on Dec. 21.

Many MAC teams have the same kind of schedule. Akron, Miami, Ball State, Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green and Western Michigan all play non-Division I opponents from Saturday through Monday. Only Ohio (at American University), Central Michigan (at a Florida tournament against Miami and Tulane) and Northern  Illinois (home against Brown) play Division I teams.

Clarion lists the game in its schedule as an exhibition.

Clarion is 7-5 and hasn’t played a Division I team. The Golden Eagles are led by junior guard Kadijah Dickson, who is the only Clarion player to average in double figures at 16.3 points per game. Dickson, only 5-foot-7, also leads the team in rebounding at 8.8 per game. Two other Clarion players average 9.5 points a game.

Clarion has allowed an average of only 56 points a game this season and has scored an average of 64.

Kent State is 6-4 and on a three-game winning streak. The Flashes average 63.4 points a game, 10th in the MAC, and give up 59.9, fifth best in the league.

As she has since scoring 17 points in KSU’s opener, junior guard Megan Carter leads the Flashes at 15.7 points per game. That’s ninth best in the MAC. Freshman Asiah Dingle is No. 2 in scoring, as she has been all season, averaging 12.4 points. Freshman forward Lindsey Thall averages 9.8 and junior guard-forward Ali Poole averages 8.2.

Merissa Barber-Smith leads the team in rebounding at 7.2 per game, which is fourth in the conference. She leads the conference in blocked shots at 1.5 per game.

Saturday the Flashes host Eastern Michigan (6-4) at 5 p.m. in the first game of another doubleheader with the Kent men, who play Bowling Green a half hour after the women finish.

To follow the Clarion game

The game starts at noon Monday at the M.A.C.C. Reserved seat tickets are $10, general admission $5.

Audio starts at about 11:45 a.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio.

Video is through ESPN Plus, which costs $4.99 a month. The service covers about 85 percent of KSU men’s and women’s basketball games and some other sports. It includes access to many other MAC games and those of other mid-major conferences. You can watch it through your cable or satellite company or the ESPN app. Here’s a link to the ESPN broadcast, which will guide you through a purchase.

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.

Clarion website, including links.

MAC statistics, including standings.

 

 

 

 

 

Pre-Christmas notes: 3 road wins in a row for first time in 10 years and a winning non-conference season

Central Park

The women’s team in New York’s Central Park. The Flashes toured the sights in between preparations for Friday’s game at NJIT. Coaches said it was the first time in New York :City for about half the team. (Photo from KSU Twitter feed)

 

Catch-up after Kent State’s 57-40 victory over NJIT Friday:

  • The Flashes have won played three straight games on the road and them all, the first time that’s happened since 2008-09. Part of that is due to the fact that it’s not common to play three away games in a row. And the competition wasn’t stellar; Robert Morris, Saint Bonaventure and NJIT have a combined record of 9-24.
  • But three road wins are more than the Flashes had total in any season from 2011 to 2016. And because road wins count much more than home wins in determining RPI rankings, the Flashes’ RPI jumped more than 60 points spots since their loss at Wright State Dec. 2. KSU is currently 134th of 351 teams, according to WarrenNolan.com, the site I use most. That’s seventh best in the Mid-American Conference. The RPI rates teams according to their won-lost record (25 percent), their opponent record (25 percent) and their opponents’ opponents’ record (50 percent).
  • The NJIT victory guarantees the Flashes a winning record in the non-conference season for the third straight year under coach Todd Starkey. KSU is 6-4 with a Dec. 31 game against Division II Clarion still to go before. MAC play starts in January.
  • The game was the third time this season Kent State has held an opponent under 50 points. The others were Youngstown State (62-34) and Robert Morris (54-46).
  • Ali Poole equaled a career high with eight rebounds at NJIT. Poole, a 6-foot junior, has played a fourth guard (sometimes announced as a forward) this season. She previously hadplayed almost entirely guard or wing. “I’m really proud of Ali,” associate head coach Fran Recchia said in a postgame radio interview after Friday’s game. “That’s something we’ve focused on with her — no matter how you’re shooting the ball, you’ve got to help us rebound.”
  • Megan Carter, Kent’s leading scorer, had 19 points Friday after scoring three against Robert Morris and nine against Saint Bonaventure. Starkey has said that after Carter’s fast start (she scored at least 14 points in KSU’s first seven games), the top thing on opponents’ scouting reports has been to slow her down. “She kept her composure even after a couple of turnovers early,” Recchia said. “She stayed aggressive, and what’s what we need every single night.” Carter is averaging 15.7 points a game, ninth in the MAC.
  • Carter and freshman point guard Asiah Dingle combined for 34 points against NJIT. Dingle’s 15 equaled her second highest total of the year; she had 17 Monday at Saint Bonaventure.
  • Kent State’s 29.2 percent field goal percentage NJIT was the third time in four games the Flashes have shot below 30 percent (the others were in a loss to Wright State and the win over Robert Morris). For the season, KSU is making 36.3 percent of its shots, 10th in the MAC and 2 percentage points below last season. That’s something Starkey has said must improve if the Flashes are to compete well in the conference season.
  • Lindsey Thall’s three blocked shots Friday moved her into a tie for fourth in the MAC at 1.3 per game. Kent’s Merissa Barber-Smith leads the MAC with 1.5 a game despite the fact she plays barely half the minutes (16.0 per game) of most players in the top 10. KSU leads the league in blocks per game at 3.7. That’s 0.48 ahead of second-ranking Ohio.
  • Other statistics from the NJIT game.
    • Rebounds: Kent State 47, NJIT 40. Offensive rebounds: KSU 23, NJIT: 10.
    • Assists: KSU 10 (led by Dingle, Alexa Golden, Barber-Smith and Thall with two), NJIT 4.
    • Steals: Kent State 10 (led by Dingle’s three and two from Carter and Golden), NJIT 6.
    • Points off turnovers: KSU 23 off 33 NJIT turnovers. NJIT 14 off of 23 Kent State turnovers.
    • Second chance points: Kent State 14, NJIT 3.
    • Points in the paint: KSU 28, NJIT 22.

Recent MAC scores

Buffalo and Central Michigan played top 10 opponents close before losing recent games. Ohio continues to roll on undefeated.

Saturday

  • Ohio (10-0) 109, Richmond (2-10) 58 at Richmond.

Friday

  • No. 8 Stanford (9-1) 62, Buffalo (7-3) 55 at Buffalo.
  • Akron (8-2) 64, UTEP (3-9) 57 at Las Vegas Classic.
  • Butler (9-1) 73, Eastern Michigan (6-4) 63 at West Palm Invitatioinal.
  • Western Michigan (5-5) 69, Florida A&M 50 at Hatter Classic in Deland, Florida.
  • Ball State (4-7) 90, Tennessee State (0-12) 51 at Ball State.
  • Bowling Green (6-4) 79, Valparaiso (4-8) 72 at Valparaiso.
  • Northern Illinois (7-4) 114, Chicago State (0-11) 52 at NIU.
  • Toledo (8-3) 77, Detroit Mercy (2-9) 60 at Toledo.

Thursday

  • No. 3 Louisville (12-0) 72, Central Michigan (8-2) 68 at Central.
  • Akron 74, Jackson State (3-6) 57 at Las Vegas Classic.
  • North Dakota (4-6) 62, Western Michigan 50 at Hatter Classic.
  • UNC Greensboro (6-6) 49, Eastern Michigan 44 at West Palm Invitational.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense, offensive rebounding carries Flashes past NJIT to 3rd straight win

Carter file

After two games in single digits, Megan Carter scored 19 points against NJIT to lead the Flashes. (File photo from KSU website.)

 

Kent State’s offense wasn’t much to celebrate, but defense and rebounding sent the  players and coaches home for Christmas with 57-40 victory over NJIT and a three-game road winning streak.

The Flashes are 6-4 with only a tune-up home game against Division II .Clarion before the Mid-American Conference season starts in January. NJIT is 3-9.

Kent State had 23 offensive rebounds and forced 33 turnovers, both season highs, and outscored NJIT 37-21 in the second half.

“We ended with a win, and that’s what it’s all about,” associate head coach Fran Recchia told KSU broadcaster David Wilson on her postgame interview. “Their zone kind of stalled us out in the first half, but I’m really proud of the girls’ bouncing back after halftime.”

The Flashes trailed 11-8 after the first quarter and led just 20-19 at halftime. But they went on a 7-2 scoring run to start the third quarter and another 12-5 run to end it. They outscored NJIT 10-2 over the last four minutes of the game to pull away.

Leading scorer Megan Carter, bouncing back after scoring fewer than 10 points in two games, had 19 to lead KSU. Asiah Dingle had 15 despite playing only seven minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.

Senior guard Alexa Golden didn’t score a point but led a defense that held NJIT to 29 percent shooting and one for 10 on three-point shots.

“She’s our glue,” Recchia said. “”We kind of go as she goes. whether she’s shooting the ball well or not. She does so much for us with behind-the-scenes leadership. We’re playing two or three freshman at a time and she’s keeping us all together. And what she does defensively does not show up in a stat sheet. But we aren’t where we are without her.”

Merissa Barber-Smith had nine rebounds (seven offensive) in 16 minutes. Ali Poole had a season-high eight rebounds to go with eight points. Barber-Smith and Poole led a 47-40 rebound advantage for KSU, 23-9 on offensive rebounds. That led to 14-3 Kent State margin in second-chance points.

Because of the offensive rebounds and NJIT’s turnovers, Kent State took 36 more shots than the Highlanders. The Flashes needed them. They only made 21 of 72 field goal attempts for 29 percent.

Box score

New post with more quotes, statistics and other MAC scores coming Saturday. .

 

5-4 Flashes play Friday afternoon in first-ever game against NJIT (3-8)

The Flashes in Times Square on their visit to New York for game against NJIT. (Photo from team Twitter feed.)

Kent State plays the New Jersey Institute of Technology Friday in its last Division I non-conference game of the season.

The game has an unusual 2 p.m. starting time.

NJIT is 3-8 with a 333 RPI (out of 351 Division I teams). The Highlanders have won two road games in a row, though against two teams with RPIs above 320.

The Flashes are 5-4 and have won two road games in a row against slightly better teams. KSU’s RPI is 140, seventh best in the Mid-American Conference.

Kent State is coming off its best offensive game of the season, a 76-64 victory over Saint Bonaventure.

“I was pleased with the win and how we’re improving,” coach Todd Starkey said. “But I feel like we still have a ways to go. That’s promising — to play a pretty tough non-conference schedule and be 5-4 and still feel like we haven’t played close to our best basketball yet.”

The Flashes are playing NJIT for the first time. The Highlanders are led by grad student Kelly Guarino, who scored 28 points with seven three-point baskets in NJIT’s 71-53 win against Colgate. Guarino is a 5-7 guard averages 14.6 points per game. 5-11 guard Danielle Tunstall averages 11.5 and 5-8 guard Ellyn Still 10.7. Grad student Tatianna Torres, another guard, is one steal away from the NJIT career record.

KSU freshman Lindsey Thall’s 14 points against Saint Bonaventure has moved her scoring averaging into double digits (10.1) for the first time this season. The 6-2 forward has never scored fewer than seven points this season.

Also averaging in double figures are redshirt junior guard Megan Carter (15.3) and freshman point guard Asiah Dingle (12.1). Dingle’s 17 points against Saint Bonaventure was the best of her young career.

Merissa Barber-Smith leads KSU in rebounds (7.0 per game) despite averaging just 16 minutes. Barber Smith 1.6 blocks a game leads the MAC.

How to follow the game

The game starts at 2 p.m. Friday at NJIT’s Wellness and Events Center. Here are directions if you’re anywhere near the area.

Audio broadcast starts about 1:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio.

Video is on ESPN Plus, which costs $4.99 a month. The service covers about 85 percent of KSU men’s and women’s basketball games and some KSU events in other sports. It includes access to many other MAC games and games in other conferences. Here’s a Kent State Q&A on ESPN+ and a link to this game’s webcast, which will guide you through a purchase.

Live statistics are available through the NJIT website.

Links

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

Detailed media game notes for Kent State.

Preview from NJIT website, including links.

NJIT detailed media game notes.

MAC statistics, including standings.

Flashes play their most complete game in 76-64 win at Saint Bonaventure

Dingle

Freshman Asiah Dingle had a career-high 17 points, five assists and no turnovers in Monday’s victory. (File photo by Austin Marisay from KSU website.)

 

Kent State’s 76-64 victory over Saint Bonaventure Monday showed what coach Todd Starkey has been aiming for all season.

The Flashes scored their most points of the year. One of the coach’s goals had been for the team to average in the 70s.

They made a season-high 51.9 percent of their shots. That was almost 8 percentage points  higher than any other game. Since he recruited the current five-member freshman class, he’s said the team’s shooting ought to be much improved.

The KSU defense was solid, especially in the first half, when they held the Bonnies to 35 percent shooting and four of 14 on three-points attempts. At its best, Kent State’s defense was constantly in motion and consistently pressuring the ball.

“I would say it was our most balanced game from start to finish,” Starkey said in a phone interview after the game. “I thought we were equal parts solid defensively and solid offensively.

“During practice in finals week, we were really trying to get better execution and better ball movement, passing more often, really looking for assists.”

The Flashes had 15 assists, their most of the season, on 28 baskets.  Freshman point guard Asiah Dingle had five assists, and fellow freshman guard Mariah Modkins had four.

“If I pass it, things open up for me,” Dingle told broadcaster David Wilson in a postgame radio interview. “We’re trying to find that little click that will bring us together on the defensive and offensive side. We’re trying to work together. We did well this game.”

Dingle had a career-high 17 points on six-of-11 shooting and committed no turnovers. 

“It was probably her best overall game,” Starkey said. “She did a really good job of  getting to the basket and in scoring in transition. Five assists, no turnovers, and she had a really solid defensive game.”

Other strong defense came from Modkins and 6-4 senior Merissa Barber-Smith.

Modkins put intense pressure on Saint Bonaventure’s point guards. “That’s part of her job to really get up and and make it difficult for them to get into an offensive flow,” Starkey said. “She’s really pesky on the ball like that.”

Barber-Smith blocked three shots and had six rebounds in just 15 minutes. “She had a couple of really key defensive possessions in the fourth quarter and a big blocked shot there,” Starkey said.

Freshman Lindsey Thall had 14 points, junior Ali Poole 13 . Junior Megan Carter, the team’s leading scorer, had nine points and senior Alexa Golden eight.

The balance pleased Starkey.

“Megan is becoming the victim of more focused scouting reports,” Starkey said. “She started off really well,  and teams are trying to take certain things away from her.

“But overall it’s a good sign that we’re getting other people who can score. We’re not going to be successful if Megan averages 18 to 20 and everybody else is at 10 and below. It’s much better for us to have four or five in double figures like that and our leading scorer be closer to 15 or 16.”

Box score

Notes

  • The victory was the Flashes’ second road win of the season and moved their record to 5-4. Saint Bonaventure is 3-8.
  • KSU made 10-of-16 first-quarter shots to take a 23-15 lead. Saint Bonaventure rallied in the third quarter but never got closer than four points. Kent never trailed in the game.
  • Six players had a total of seven steals for KSU, which scored 18 points off of 15 Saint Bonaventure turnovers. The Flashes had 13 turnovers, which led to 11 Bonnie points.
  • Saint Bonaventure outrebounded Kent State 31-30. Carter equalled Barber-Smith’s leading total of six. Thall and Golden had four.
  • Nine Kent State players got in the game, and all played more than 13 minutes. That’s the most depth KSU has shown this season. Junior college transfer Sydney Brinlee played a career-high 14 minutes, scoring two points with a rebound and an assist. Freshman Hannah Young played 19 minutes, her most since the second game of the season and more than triple her average time in the last four games. She had six points. Part of Young’s increase minutes was due to Carter picking up her second foul in the first quarter.
  • KSU shot only two free throws in the first half and missed both. But the Flashes finished 13 of 16 from the foul line.

The Flashes will bus to New York City and stay in Manhattan while they prepare for their game at NJIT Friday. The coaches plan to show the team the New York sights  when they’re not practicing. KSU will be home Dec. 31 against Division II Clarion, a game that’s somewhat of a tune-up for the conference season, which starts the first week of January.

 

Flashes return to action this week with games at Saint Bonaventure and NJIT

Final exams behind them, the women’s basketball team head on a week-long trip through New York for the last two road games of the non-conference season.

The Flashes play at Saint Bonaventure at 7 p.m. Monday and at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark on Friday. The team is touring the sights in New York City around the NJIT game.

Both those games are winnable on paper, as is KSU’s non-conference finale against Division II Clarion in Kent at noon on New Year’s Eve. Winning all three would give the Flashes a 7-4 non-conference record.

Saint Bonaventure is the best of the three teams. The Bonnies are 3-7, with wins over Niagara, Canisius and Siena, all teams with RPI rankings worse than 300 (of 351 teams). Kent’s RPI is 166. Saint Bonaventure’s RPI is 235.

The Bonnies have lost to Georgia (5-4, RPI 140), Hofstra (4-6 and 262) Ohio (8-0 and 73), Denver (7-4 and 108), Bucknell (8-2 and 52nd), Akron (5-2 and 223) and Penn State (6-4 with a 112 RPI). All RPI rankings are according to WarrenNolan.com.

A key player for the Bonnies is 5-9 senior guard Mckenna Maycock, who is second in scoring on the team with an average of 10..5 points per game. Maycock has missed six games with injuries. Since she returned four games ago, the Bonnies have made 41.7 percent of their shots (compared with 36.6 without her) and 50 percent of their three-point attempts (compared with 27.0 percent).

Leading scorer is 5-7 freshman Deja Francis at 13.6 points per game. Two other players average in double figures. Leading rebounder is Amanda Oliver, a 6-1 junior forward who averages 6.0 a game.

Kent State’s 6-4 center, Merissa Barber-Smith, is fifth in the MAC in rebounding at 7.1 a game despite averaging just over 15 minutes. She’s also third in the league in blocks per game at 1.4. Freshman Lindsay Thall is fourth in blocks at 1.3.

Junior guard Megan Carter dropped from fifth to eighth in scoring at 17.1 points per game after scoring a season-low three points in KSU’s 54-46 win at Robert Morris Dec. 8. Freshman guard Asiah Dingle is second on the team in scoring at 11.8. Thall averages 9.6.

How to follow the game

The game starts at 7 p.m. Monday at the Reilly Center at Saint Bonaventure. It’s about a three-and-a-half hour drive from Kent. Here are directions to campus from the Saint Bonaventure website and a map of campus. All tickets are $5.

Audio broadcast starts about 6:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio.

Video is on ESPN Plus, which costs $4.99 a month. The service covers about 85 percent of KSU men’s and women’s basketball games and some KSU events in other sports. It includes access to many other MAC games and games in other conferences. Here’s a Kent State Q&A on ESPN+ and a link to this game’s webcast, which will guide you through a purchase.

Live statistics are available through the Saint Bonaventure website.

Links

Detailed Kent State media game notes

Saint Bonaventure game notes.

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

Preview from Saint Bonaventure website, including links.

MAC statistics, including standings.

The 2019 recruiting class: 3 ‘can’t miss’ players, according to KSU’s Starkey

From left: Clare Kelly (the shooter), Katie Shumate (the defender), Nila Blackford (the athlete). Photos from KSU Twitter feed.

This year’s Kent State team starts two freshmen. Two more are in the team’s top eight players. All have contributed significantly to the Flashes’ 4-4 start.

Coach Todd Starkey thinks next year’s class could be just as good.

“Probably better in some ways,” he said in an interview a few days after the Flashes received letters of intent from Kentucky forward Nila Blackford and Ohio guards Katie Shumate and Clare Kelly.

“To be honest,” he said. “I’d say all three are can’t-miss players.”

To recap the basics:

  • Shumate is a 5-11 guard from Newark High School, a team among the best in the state for the last two years. She was a first-team all-state selection as a sophomore and second-team as a junior.
  • Kelly is a 5-8 guard from Olmsted Falls. She was second-team all state as a sophomore, when she averaged 19 points a game, and third-team last season. She’s one of the best three-point shooters in the state.
  • Blackford is a 6-1 forward/guard from Manual High School in Louisville, where she was rated the No. 2 power forward in Kentucky by one recruiting service. (When Starkey praised her mobility, I asked whether she was a wing or forward power. “Yes,” he answered.)

The new players will take the roster spots opened up when guard Alexa Golden and center Merissa Barber-Smith graduate in May. The third spot came open when sophomore guard Erin Thames left the team this summer.

Shumate: A “most versatile defender”

Starkey first saw Shumate when she was an eighth grader. He was then an assistant coach at Indiana and recruiting a much older Newark player. At that time, he got to know Shumate’s father, J.R., who is the long-time girls head coach at Newark.

In the first fall after Starkey was named Kent State’s coach, he was scouting a preseason multi-team scrimmage in Toledo. He saw Shumate again, by now starting her sophomore season.

He offered her a scholarship that day.

“She had work ethic, toughness, versatility,” the coach said. “I knew she was going to continue to develop because her dad is a good coach.”

“We recruited her from that point forward. At times, I thought she was going to end up being too good for us. But because I had a relationship with the family before, I think they valued what we were trying to do here.”

A Power Five school tried unsuccessfuly to persuade Shumate to decommit from KSU this fall, Starkey said.

Starkey raves about Shumate’s defense.

“She will be our most versatile defender from day one,” he said.

The coach said Shumate can guard anyone from point guards and post players. He compared her to Golden, the senior who has anchored Kent State’s defense for four years. Shumate, however is two inches taller and more versatile on offense and defense, he said.

Like many excellent high school players, Shumate has played every position, including point guard and post. Starkey says she could play everything but the “5” (center) at KSU and can guard any position. “Her versatility is just unbelieveable.,” he said.

Kelly: “As good a shooter as there is in Ohio”

Kelly actually committed before Shumate did — the September before her junior year.

“We had seen her for a year and seen her play in the summer and knew we really wanted her for her shooting ability,” Starkey said. “But since then she’s continued to develop, and her all-around game has gotten so much better. She’s better with the ball in her hands, she’s a talented passer and solid defender.”

But she’s foremost a shooter, “as good as there is in the state of Ohio this year,” Starkey said, something I’ve seen echoed on AAU websites.

“She can really heat it up,” the coach said. “She’s the type of shooter who can hit five threes in a row.”

Blackford: “She can really run, catch and finish”

KSU didn’t really connect with Blackford until this fall. KSU coaches had seen her play with the West Virginia Thunder, a strong AAU program.

“We knew of her,” Starkey said, “but we didn’t really pursue her.”

Then Starkey saw her again this summer, now on an Indianapolis AAU team.

“I saw her play, and I was like, ‘She’s too good for us.’”

KSU’s assistants saw her play. “And they were like, ‘I’m not sure we really have a chance at her.’”

At that time, the Flashes actually were recruiting one of her teammates, who eventually committed to Duquesne.

But they heard Blackford was still uncommitted, though she had had significant discussions with teams.

“So we just jumped in full go, two feet in,” Starkey said.

Kent State coaches talked to her, her father and her AAU coaches in both West Virginia and Indianapolis. Starkey knew with both coaches from previous recruiting.

“Her dad said, ‘I just want you to know the only coach both (AAU) coaches gave a full endorsement to was you,’” Starkey related.

Then it was just a matter of KSU trying to out-recruit Marshall, Hofstra, and other good midmajors.

“She’s going to be really good in our system,” Starkey said. “She can really run, catch and finish. She’s really strong and athletic. She’s very versatile. She can guard perimeter positions, she could guard posts, and I really think we’ll see the benefit of having her in transition and on the offensive glass — things that right now we’re lacking a little.

“She doesn’t look like a player that ends up at this level. She looks like a Power Five player. She’s just some consistency and a little bit of refinement away from being really good.”

One reason the Flashes were recruiting Blackford at all was that another forward decided not to come to Kent. Mali Morgan-Elliott of Fairmont High School near Dayton tweeted last spring that she had verbally committed to KSU last spring. This summer, she was being wooed by Colorado (which never did offer her a scholarship), decommitted from Kent, then seemed to visit half the other schools in the MAC. She eventually signed with Toledo, so she and Blackford could be guarding each other in another year.

“Mali is a talented kid, and we would have loved to have her here,” Starkey said. “But we’re very, very pleased to have Nila, who probably fits our needs even more. I think things worked out the way they were supposed to.”

Starkey agrees with the coaching axiom that that two good recruiting classes back to back is a recipe for a championship team, though he quickly says that a lot of other MAC schools have been recruiting well, too.

But the coach is very happy with what he has.

“All three of them would have a really good shot at starting for us this (current) weekend,” Starkey said in November. “Claire and Katie already have a college kind of mentality, work ethic and focus. Nila is just gifted at this level.”

An earlier version of this post had the wrong name for the recruit who decommitted form KSU this summer. I apologize for the error.

 

 

Flashes rally in 2nd half to win 1st road game, 54-46, over Robert Morris

Lex and mom (1)

Kent State senior guard Alexa Golden and her mother, Nancy Watts, after Friday’s game. Golden grew up 25 minutes away from the Robert Morris campus. More from her and her mother toward the end of this post.

 

Alexa Golden said the equation for Kent State’s comeback win over Robert Morris Friday was simple.

“It was just coming out and playing better,” the senior guard said after KSU’s 54-46 victory. “We already played our worst basketball. We were three for 23, we had 14 turnovers, and we’re still only down by two.”

Golden scored all of her team-high 11 points in the second half. She grabbed eight rebounds and led a defensive effort that shut down RMU’s three-point shooting, the mainstay of the Colonials’ offense.

The victory was Kent State’s first on the road this season and evened the Flashes’ record at 4-4. Robert Morris is 1-7. All but one of its losses have come by 10 points or less.

Kent State went on a 15-4 run in the first five minutes of the second half to take control of the game.

The Colonials came into the game scoring 48 percent of their points from beyond the arc. Their top three guards had averaged a combined 42 percent on three-pointers.

Friday RMU was five of 17 from distance. Those three guards were two for seven.

Kent State’s best defense was keeping the Colonials from getting the shot off.

“You just have to be there on the catch, hands over the ball,” Golden said “Coach always says if they can get the shot off, then we weren’t there. So we made sure that we were there.”

Coach Todd Starkey liked the defense but shook his head about the offense. The Flashes made 10 of 26 shots in the second half but still were 28.5 percent shooting for the game. In their previous game, they made 27.3 percent in a 61-55 loss at Wright State.

“We were trying to force stuff,” Starkey said of the first half. “Some of the shots came when we didn’t have great offensive flow, and others we were hesitating.”

In the second half, Starkey said, the Flashes adjusted their offense to improve ball movement. “And we just made more baskets,” the coach said.

“If we start shooting the ball, we may have a pretty nice little team here,” Starkey said. “At some point our offense is going to catch up, so we just have to stay the course. We’re a little bit disjointed offensively, and that’s typical with as many freshmen as we’re planning right now.”

Merissa Barber-Smith had 10 rebounds for the second game in a row and scored a season-high six points. Her 23 minutes were also a season high.

“In rebounds per minute, she’s got to be leading the country,” Starkey said. “If she could start scoring the ball a little — offensive putbacks and finishes, she’s going to keep playing more and more.”

Barber-Smith’s rebounds-per-minute average so far this season is, in fact, 0.42 in about 15 minutes per game. Central Michigan’s Reyna Frost, who leads the MAC in rebounding at 10.8 a game, is grabbing 0.31 rebounds per minute.

“It’s my role,” she said. “That’s what I have to do. ‘Stay in your role and star in your role.’ That’s what the coaches tell us.”

Offense, she says, is something she keeps working on. “I’ve got to prove to my guards that I’m reliable, and that I deserve the ball in the paint,” Barber-Smith said.

Box score

Golden’s last game near home

Golden grew up in Pittsburgh, about 25 minutes from Robert Morris. 

“We live close enough to Kent so that my family gets to come and see me a lot,” Golden said. “But to come home and play in front of my family and friends makes it mean a little bit more.”

Golden had a personal cheering section of about 15 Friday. One was her mother, Nancy Watts.

“Fourteen years I’ve watched her play,” Watts said. “There’s a lot of emotion as it comes to an end.”

She said she’s very glad her daughter went to Kent State.

“We’ve always had so much support there,” she said.

Golden got her undergraduate degree in criminal justice in two-and-a-half years, in part due to college credit she earned while at Charters Valley High School. Golden will get her masters in sports recreation and management in May. She was an Academic All-MAC selection her sophomore and juniors years. (Freshmen aren’t eligible.)

The view from Robert Morris

Coach Charlie Buscaglia, as quoted on the RMU website:

“We didn’t play a very clean game today. We needed a whole effort from everyone, and it wasn’t there from the very beginning. We  got off to a sluggish start, when we could have had a nice lead in the first half.

“And although we still had a lead at halftime, we came out and turned the ball over to start the second half.”

Notes

  • Golden was the only Kent State player to score in double figures. Lindsey Thall had nine points, Mariah Modkins eight and Asiah Dingle seven. All three are freshmen.
  • Dingle, Golden and Megan Carter all had three steals. The Flashes had 12 steals overall, one off their season high, and forced 23 Robert Morris turnovers. KSU had 21 turnovers of its own but cut its first half total in half to seven in the last 20 minutes.
  • In many ways, the game was won at the foul line. Kent State made a season high 23 free throws on 31 attempts. Robert Morris was seven of 10. RMU committed 29 fouls to KSU’s 16. Two Colonial players had four fouls by the third minute of the third quarter. Two more ended the game with four, and a fifth fouled out.
  • Carter, Kent State’s leading scorer, had a season-low three points and went 0 for 11 in field goal attempts. She led KSU with three assists but had six turnovers and played a season-low 26 minutes.
  • Robert Morris center Nneka Ezeigbo led all scorers with 18 points.

Kent State is off for nine days for final exams, then travels to Saint Bonaventure (3-6) for a Dec. 17 game. Then they’ll continue on to NJIT (1-8) for a Dec. 21 game, doing sightseeing in New York City as part of the trip.