Buffalo beats Ohio to claim NCAA bid. Could Bobcats, CMU, even Miami join it?

Buffalo champs

The Bulls, their trophy and championship hats and shirts. (Photo from MAC website.)

Buffalo, a team that had more than its shares of ups and downs through the season, won the MAC Tournament Saturday with a solid 77-61 victory over Ohio.

The Bulls (23-9) get the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament next week, but they’re unlikely to be the only MAC team in the field. Regular-season champion Central Michigan (25-7, RPI 32) is a very good bet to get an at-large bid. Ohio (27-5, RPI 35) has a strong chance. I even saw one bracketology site that had Miami (22-8, RPI 46)  in the NCAAs. Miami lost to Ohio 74-48 in the semifinals,

The MAC has never had three, let alone four, teams in the NCAA Tournament (men’s or women’s). Buffalo and Central Michigan made it last year, and it was the first time in 23 years the MAC had had two teams. Both of those teams reached the NCAA Sweet 16, the first time any MAC women’s team had gotten that far and the first time a mid-major conference had put two teams in the Sweet 16.

Buffalo’s championship capped a season which saw it start the season without its second-best player, center Summer Hemphill, because of academic problems. The Bulls still went 8-3 in the non-conference season, with two losses coming to No. 7 Oregon and No. 6 Stanford.

Hemphill returned for MAC play, but Buffalo lost its opener at home to Ohio in overtime. The Bulls then won six in a row and eight of nine, losing only at CMU. Then they lost three of four in mid-February, including defeats at last-place Bowling Green and eighth-place Akron.

Buffalo won six of its last seven, including three tournament games, by an average of 20 points. Only loss in that time came at Kent State, 62-53, last Saturday. Buffalo avenged that defeat with an 85-52 trouncing of the Flashes in the MAC quarterfinals.

The Bulls finished fourth in the MAC at 12-6.

Cierra Dillard led Buffalo with 22 points against Ohio and was named tournament MVP. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Hanna Hall, who made five 3-point baskets and had 17 points against Ohio, and Hemphill, who had a tournament-record 21 rebounds and 16 points. Central’s Reyna Frost and Ohio’s Cece Hooks also were all-tournament.

Game story from MAC.

The MAC is likely to place two other teams into postseason play. Any of the top four who don’t make the NCAA will go to the WNIT, probably along with Kent State (19-12, RPI 83) and Toledo (20-11, RPI 85). Overall the MAC had the eighth-highest league RPI of 32 conferences.

NCAA pairings will be announced on ESPN at 6 p.m. Monday. WNIT field will be announced a few hours later on the WNIT website, with pairings following later Monday night.

The NCAA selection committee will reveal its eight bubble teams at 5 p.m. Sunday on ESPN’s SportsCenter. The committee chair will reveal the “debatable eight” in alphabetical order, then discuss it with network analysis. Of the eight, four will make the tournament, four will not. This is something I’ve never seen done before. I’m sure it’s designed to hype the selection process. Link to ESPN story on selection in general.

All the RPIs come for RealTimeRPI.com. As it sounds, the site computes current RPI after every game. Other sites and the NCAA sometimes have rankings slightly differently, but they rarely are more than three or four spots apart.

Here are the bracket projects I saw Saturday night:

ESPN (updated Saturday)

  • Buffalo 10th seed.
  • Central Michigan 8.
  • Ohio 11.

(Has Ohio as one of “last four in” and Miami as one of “second four out.”)

ESPN bracketology page

HerHoopStats (Friday)

  • Buffalo 10.
  • Ohio 10.
  • Central Michigan 5.

HerHoopStats bracketology

RealTimeRPI (Saturday)

  • Buffalo 10.
  • Miami 12.
  • Ohio 10.
  • Central Michigan 10.

RealTimeRPI bracketology 

College Sports Madness (Saturday)

  • Buffalo 11
  • Central Michigan 7

Listed Ohio as first of “first eight out.” Last eight in were Tennessee, TSU, Indiana, Clemson, Kansas State, UCF, Auburn and Clemson.

College Sports Madness Bracketology

Men’s championship

Buffalo made it a sweep of the basketball championships with an 87-73 win over Bowling Green Saturday night.

It was a strange game. Buffalo took as 15-point lead in the first half, then BG ended the half on a 25-11 run to cut the halftime lead to 39-38.

The second half was within three points for 14 minutes and was still a six-point game with four minutes to go. The Bulls ended on an 16-2 run.

Jeremy Harris scored 31 points for Buffalo.

Buffalo also took a double championships three years ago. The last time before that was two wins by Kent State in 2002.


Buffalo upsets Central Michigan and will meet Ohio in MAC finals

MAC bracketBuffalo, the team that knocked Kent State out of the MAC Tournament on Wednesday, knocked out No. 1 seed Central Michigan in the semifinals on Friday 82-77.

The Bulls (22-9) will play No. 2 seed Ohio (27-4) at 11 a.m. Saturday for the tournament championship and a guaranteed bid to the NCAA Tournament.

For the MAC, Buffalo’s beating CMU (25-7) might be a very good thing. Central, which finished the season with an RPI of 29 (out of 351 Division I teams), had been  almost certain to get an at-large bid no matter the MAC Tournament.

Now the league is guaranteed at least two bids for only the second time in 23 years. Buffalo and Central made last year’s tournament. Each advanced to the Sweet 16, the first time any MAC team had gotten so far.

The MAC could get three bids. Ohio’s RPI is 33 and Buffalo’s is 31. RPI used to be a major factor in the tournament selection, but it’s less so these days. Most important is “quality wins” over high-ranking teams. Ohio and Buffalo have a few. Central has more. And RPI’s that high may be hard to ignore in a 64-team field.

I’ve seen at least one “bracketology” that had all three teams making the tournament.

The Ohio-Buffalo matchup in the finals is almost a full circle for the league. The teams met in the MAC opener in early January, with Ohio edging Buffalo 74-71 in overtime at Buffalo. When the two teams met a second time at Ohio two weeks ago Buffalo rolled over the Bobcats 73-43.

In its last six games, the Bulls have beaten Ohio by 30, Miami by 20, Akron by 14, Kent State by 33 and Central Michigan by five. Its only loss was at Kent State last Saturday 62-53.

Buffalo’s Cierra Dillard, the MAC’s runner-up for player of the year and second-leading scorer in the country, had 30 points. Center Summer Hemphill had 24 and nine rebounds.

Central Michigan’s Reyna Frost, the player of the year winner, had 21 points and 13 rebounds. Buffalo held all-MAC guard Presley Hudson, one of the league’s best shooters, to 3-of-15 from the field and 2-of-10 from 3-point distance.

Ohio routed Miami 74-48 in Friday’s other semifinals. The two teams had split in the regular season, each winning close games on the other team’s home floor. Erica Johnson, the MAC’s freshman of the year, led the Bobcats with 18 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and three assists. High scorer for Miami was Kendall McCoy with 10. Miami’s all-MAC guard, Lauren Dickerson, went 2-for-20 from the field and scored five points.

Miami won 11 MAC games in a row at midseason but lost four of its last six — two to Ohio, one to Buffalo and one to Kent State.

Saturday’s finals are broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.


Playing its best, Buffalo overwhelms KSU in MAC quarterfinals 85-52

Golden hug (1)Senior Alexa Golden and coach Todd Starkey as she leaves Wednesday’s quarterfinals. It’s not likely that it was Golden’s last game; Kent State has a good chance of a bid to the WNIT. We’ll find that out next week. (Photo by Austin Mariasy.)


When Kent State beat Buffalo at the M.A.C. Center Saturday, the Flashes played one of the their best games of the season, the Bulls one of their worst.

In Wednesday’s MAC quarterfinals, Buffalo was back to its top style of play and routed Kent State 85-62.

The Bulls reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament last season and have the 37th best RPI (of 351 Division I teams) in the country this season. In the quarterfinals against Kent, they beat their season average of 76 points, made 50 percent of their field goals (they made 26 percent against KSU Saturday) and held Kent State to 30 percent shooting.

Buffalo (21-9) will play No. 1 seed Central Michigan (25-6) in Friday’s semifinals. Central needed a 3-point shot at the buzzer of regulation to force overtime against No. 9 seed Eastern Michigan, then won 88-80.

Kent State (19-12) likely has at least one more game ahead of it. The Flashes, with an RPI in the high 70s, are a good candidate for the WNIT. When they made that tournament two years ago, their RPI was in the 90s. Announcement of the WNIT field will come Monday, a day after the bracket is set for the NCAA Tournament.

On Wednesday, Buffalo was much better than KSU.

“They’re the most athletic team in the league,” coach Todd Starkey said. “They came out rested and probably a little angry from the game a few days ago.

“Personnel for personnel, if you tell me we’re going to play Buffalo two times in a week, we probably won’t have a great chance of winning both of those games. I’m not sure we have a great chance of winning one.”

He smiled a little ruefully.

“I guess we picked the wrong one to win,” he said.

The game went as many of KSU’s losses have gone this season. The Flashes missed their first four shots. Buffalo made its first five, and KSU was behind 11-0 after three minutes. Kent scored seven in a row of its own to get within four. But Buffalo just extended its lead from there.

“When we haven’t started a game shooting the ball well, we’ve struggled,” Starkey said “They had a great game plan and executed it.

“They have the ability to really disrupt everything you do if they stay disciplined defensively. Some of it has to do with their active hands. And they can kind of flip a switch and take things to a different level defensively.”

As for Buffalo’s offense, KSU guard Megan Carter put it this way:

“They were just getting good looks, and they were converting.”

Buffalo made 26 of 52 shots from the field, 7-of-16 from three-point distance and 26-of-30 from the free-throw line. The Bulls had 17 assists, led by sophomore Hannah Hall’s five.

Hall had started the first 22 games of the season. When she struggled in February, coach Felisha Legette-Jack tried bringing her off the bench. Hall played just eight minutes against Kent State Saturday.

Wednesday she played 36 minutes, made 4-of-5 three-point shots and scored 16 points.

As usual, senior Cierra Dillard led Buffalo in scoring, this time with 22 points. That was three points below her average; she’s second in Division I at 25.4 points a game. She also had four assists and three steals.

Carter, Kent State’s leading scorer from the first game of the year, had 19 points and tied a career high with seven rebounds. When she came out of the game with about five minutes to play, she looked exhausted.

“I was just trying to play hard for the team and for the seniors,” she said. “I came with Lex and Mer, then I got hurt my freshman year, so I’m still a junior. We’ve been through a lot — a not-so-great season, a coaching change, then coach Starkey comes in and completely changes the whole culture.

“To get to Cleveland three times is not easy, and I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else.”

“Lex and Mer” are seniors Alexa Golden and Merissa Barber-Smith. Golden had five steals, three assists and five rebounds. Barber-Smith blocked two shots and had five rebounds. 

Starkey took one more opportunity to praise his seniors.

“Those kids gave me everything,” he said. “They didn’t have to trust me. I didn’t recruit them. But they did….they just trusted us. They wanted to win.

“They both mean a lot to me, and they both have been through a lot in different ways. They’ve been able to really set the tone. I cannot think of two better players to set the foundation for where we want to go. They’re great role models for our younger players. They kind of fostered them along and get them to where we need to go.”

Starkey didn’t promise in so many words to be back in Cleveland but certainly sounded upbeat.

“I think we have great things ahead of us,” he said. “I’m really proud of our freshmen. We threw them into the fire; their first games were against North Carolina and N.C. State. We’ve had our ups and downs, but they’ve battled through and had good success late in the season.

“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.‘ And for all of our underclassmen, this isn’t a final defeat. I’m really pleased with where we’re headed.”

Box score

Golden the wounded warrior

Senior Alexa Golden had ice packs on practically every joint in her body as she walked out of the locker room Wednesday.

Golden has been playing hurt the second half of the season and, indeed, for most of her career.

Wednesday she went down hard as she stole the ball in the first quarter. She ran down the court favoring her right arm and came out of the game for about a minute-and-a-half.

Then she returned and played on until Starkey emptied the bench in the last five minutes.

“Her shoulder has been bothering her for a few weeks now,” the coach said. “As of a week ago, she was having trouble just lifting her arm up.”

(Golden didn’t even hold her framed jersey above her head at Senior Day.)_

“She aggravated that today, and she was really struggling to be who she is,” Starkey said.

Golden, he said, “probably is the all-time leader in NCAA history in ice bags used over four seasons.

The view from Buffalo

In the postgame press conference, Buffalo coach Legette-Jack, Hall and Dillard praised Kent State as a “great team” but said the key to the game was focusing on what the Bulls were doing.

Hall: “On defense, we locked in. We set that tempo. We dictated where we wanted them to go. We knew their personnel very well, and the way we communicated on defense tonight compared to the way we did last week — and even in most of our other games — was amazing.

“I think we haven’t shown what we can do yet. This is a really special and very skilled group. When we come together, it’s something amazing.”

Dillard: “When you have your teammates firing on all cylinders like today and just playing their roles, it was easy just to be myself and play the flow of the offense.”

Legette-Jack: “I think I have one of the most special players in the country (in Dillard), and in order for her to be seen the way she should be, we have to play a lot more basketball. She’s done so much for Buffalo and for me. I want to continue to give back to her by letting the world see why I’m so happy every day. ”


  • The 33-point margin of defeat was Kent State’s worst of the season. Previous widest was a 17-point loss to North Carolina State, which is 26-5 and ranked 10th in the country.
  • Freshman Lindsey Thall was the only KSU player besides Golden to score in double figures. She had 12 with two three-point baskets and a blocked shot. (She leads the MAC in both categories.)
  • Everyone else struggled. Barber-Smith had six points, which is above her average. But freshman Asiah Dingle went 1-for-7 shooting and five points. She had six turnovers. Golden took only two shots and didn’t score. Neither did junior Ali Poole, who averages more than nine points a game. Freshman Hannah Young had seven points, her most since Dec. 31, in 11 minutes.
  • The Flashes made 18-of-60 shots — eight more attempts than Buffalo had. They were 5-of-20 on 3-pointers.
  • At one point, the specialty statistics were overwhelming in Buffalo’s favor. They ended closer: in the paint, it was Buffalo 32-22; off turnovers Buffalo 19-13; on second chances, Buffalo 6-5, and off the fast break, Buffalo 13-9
  • Buffalo out rebounded Kent State 39-29. The Bulls committed 11 turnovers, Kent State 14. The Flashes had just nine assists, but they made only 18 baskets.

Quarterfinal scores

All of the higher-seeded teams won.

  • No. 1 Central Michigan (25-6) 88, No. Eastern Michigan (14-17) 80 in overtime.
  • No. 4 Buffalo (21-9) 85, No. 5 Kent State (19-12) 52.
  • No. 3 Miami (23-7) 72, No. 6 Toledo (20-11) 54.
  • No. 2 Ohio (26-4) 72, No. 7 Northern Illinois (19-13) 56.

Central and Buffalo play at 11 a.m. Friday in the semifinals. Miami and Ohio play at 1:30 p.m. Broadcast is on ESPN+.

Finals are at 11 a.m. Saturday on the CBS Sports Network.





MAC Madness: Kent State vs. Buffalo (again) in tournament quarterfinals

Merissa vs BG

Against Bowling Green Monday, Merissa Barber-Smith had one of KSU’s best games of the season by any player. She had 20 rebounds, tied for seventh in school history, 10 points and three blocked shots. (Photo by Austin Mariasy.)


The baseball term is “rubber game.”

The football term is “sudden death” (or “sudden victory,” as some try to call it),

The basketball term is “March Madness” as Kent State plays in the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals. The Flahses face Buffalo for the second time in five days and the third time this season.

Last Saturday the Flashes beat Buffalo 62-53 at the M.A.C. Center in the final  game of the regular season. It was a solid offensive and great defensive effort for the Flashes, who held Buffalo 24 points below its scoring average. The Bulls made only 26 percent of their shots, 14 points below their average and a season low.

A month earlier Buffalo built a big first-half lead and fought off a Kent State rally to win 75-66. In that game, Buffalo made 42 percent of its shots. KSU had the shooting problems in that game, making just under 30 percent in the first half. In the second, they made 52 percent.

So the teams meet again at about 2:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena. It’s a true rubber game, the deciding contest in a three-game series.

And the stakes are what they always are in the postseason: The winner advances, probably playing league-champion Central Michigan in the semifinals. The loser goes home and waits for a WNIT bid, something both teams have a good shot at.

The questions that will decide the game are these:

  • Can Kent State keep playing complete games? In beating Akron in overtime last week, Buffalo on Saturday and Bowling Green in the tournament opener Monday, KSU lost just three quarters by a total of seven points. For most of the season, the Flashes have played as they did in the first Buffalo game — two or three good quarters, one or two bad ones.
  • Can Kent’s defense against play as well as it did against the Bulls on Saturday? Will Buffalo struggle on offense two games in a row? Buffalo has had six games this season in which it has shot less than 30 percent. It’s never had two games like that in a row.
  • Can Kent State contain Buffalo star guard Cierra Dillard again? She’s the No. 2 scorer in Division I, averaging 25 points a game. Against KSU Saturday, she scored 18 and fouled out with six minutes left. She has fouled out five times this season.
  • Can Kent State keep getting the great scoring balance it has had over the last three games? The Flashes had four players score in double figures against Akron and Buffalo and five against Bowling Green. It’s hard to defend a team when everyone can score.
  • Can 6-4 senior center Merissa Barber-Smith keep playing the best basketball of her career? She has made five of her 13 starts in KSU’s last five games and averaged 13.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots. She scored nine points against against Akron and 10 points against Bowling Green — her two best games of the season. She has made 12 of her 18 shots in five games — way above her average earlier in the season. She’ll need to play well. Buffalo has big, strong rebounders.

Buffalo was one of the best teams on the conference for most of the season. The Bulls’ RPI is 37 of 351 Division I teams.

For three of the last four games, the Flashes played like one of the best teams in the conference.

The question for Wednesday: Can they keep it up?

About the game

No. 4 seed Buffalo (20-8 overall) vs. Kent State (19-11) at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals.

About Buffalo

IN THE MAC: Finished fourth at 12-6, a game ahead of Kent State and three games behind first-place Central Michigan. Runner-up to Central in last year’s MAC Tournament, got an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and reached the Sweet 16.

RPI: 37 of 351 teams. Schedule strength: 64. 19th-ranked mid-major team by CollegeInsider.com. Beat Kent State 75-66 in Buffalo on Feb. 9, lost at Kent State 62-53 on March 9.

LAST GAME: Lost to Kent State on Saturday. Had first-round bye in the tournament.

KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)

(I’m switching to conference-game-only statistics because they better reflect how a team is playing now.)

  • Scores 76.3 points a game, second in MAC. Opponents score 67.5 (fifth). Field-goal percentage: 42.0 (fourth). Field-goal defense: 39.3 (fourth).
  • 3-point percentage: 31.2 (ninth). 3-point baskets per game: 6.9 (seventh). 3-point defense: 30.2 (third). Free throw percentage 76.3 (second).
  • Rebounding margin: Plus-5.1 (second). Offensive rebounds per game: 14.9 (first).
  • Turnover margin: Plus-2.3 (third). Steals per game: 9.4 (second). Blocked shots per game: 3.0 (fourth).


  • 5-foot-9 senior guard Cierra Dillard: 25.2 points per game, first in MAC and second in nation). Assists per game: 6.4 (first). Steals: 2.7 (second). Field-goal percentage: 37.1 (11th). Three-point percentage: 32.4 (10th). Three-pointers per game: 3.2 (second). Free-throw percentage: 79.7 (sixth). All-MAC first team. Runner-up for MAC player of the year.
  • 6-1 junior center Summer Hemphill: 13.6 points (14th). Rebounds: 10.4  (second). Field-goal percentage: 59.2 (first). Free-throw percentage: 69.4 (17th). Blocks: 1.2 (fourth). Al-=MAC second team.
  • 6-2 junior center Theresa Onwuka (9.8 points, 5.4 rebounds).

Kent State

IN THE MAC: Finished regular season tied for fifth at 11-7.

RPI: 77. Schedule strength: 88. Lost at Buffalo 75-66 on Feb. 9. Beat Bulls in Kent 62-53 on March 2.

LAST GAME: Beat Bowling Green 86-62 Monday in tournament first-round game in Kent.

KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)

  • 65.7 points a game (eighth in MAC). Opponents average 63.4 (second).
  • Field-goal percentage: 37.1 (last). Field-goal defense: 39.2 (third). Free-throw percentage: 72.7 (sixth).
  • 3-point percentage: 33.0 (sixth). 3-point baskets per game: 7.2 (sixth). Three-point defense: 32.0 (sixth).
  • Rebounding margin: Plus-0.9 (fifth). Offensive rebounds per game: 12.4 (second). Turnover margin: Plus 0.4 (fifth).
  • Blocked shots: 4.2 (first). Steals: 8.2 (third).


  • 5-7 redshirt junior guard Megan Carter: 16.3 points per game, ninth in MAC. Field-goal percentage: 40.2 (ninth). 3-point percentage: 40.4. Free-throw percentage: 73.4 (12th). All-MAC third team.
  • 5-9 senior guard Alexa Golden: 8.4 points. Steals: 3.3 (first). Assists: 3.1 (15th). Blocks: 0.7 (16th). Rebounds: 6.4 (17th). All-MAC defensive team.
  • 5-4 freshman point guard Asiah Dingle: 13.1 points (18th). Field-goal percentage: 36.4. Free-throw percentage: 73.6 (ninth) . Steals: 2.0 (eighth). Assists: 2.3 (24th). MAC all-freshman team. Runner-up for freshman of the year.
  • 6-2 freshman forward Lindsay Thall: 10.7 points. 3-point percentage: 45.8 (first). 3-point baskets per game: 2.1 (10th). Blocked shots: 1.9 (first). Rebounds: 5.0. All-MAC freshman team.
  • 6-4 senior center Merissa Barber-Smith: 7.2 rebounds (11th). Blocked shots: 0.8 (tied for seventh).
  • 6-0 junior guard Ali Poole: 9.8 points. Rebounds: 4.2.

To follow the game

Action starts a half hour after Eastern Michigan-Central Michigan game ends, probably about 2:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. It’s about an hour’s drive from Kent. Here are directions from the Q’s website. There’s an attached parking garage and many other garages and surface lots close by. General admission tickets are $10 and a ticket covers all four Wednesday games.

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

Video is through ESPN+, which costs $4.99 a month. The network will carry all MAC Tournament games except the women’s finals and the men’s semifinals and finals. You can watch through ESPN on your television or computer, or through the ESPN app.

Live statistics are available through the MAC website.


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

Preview from Buffalo website, including links.

Detailed media game notes from Buffalo.

Final MAC conference-game statistics, including link to full-season stats.

Final MAC standings

Tournament pairings

Wednesday’s quarterfinals

  • No. 9 Eastern Michigan (14-16 overall, 6-12inn regular MAC season) vs. No. 1 Central Michigan (24-6, 15-3), noon.
  • No. 5 Kent State (19-11, 11-7) vs. No. 4 Buffalo (20-9, 12-6), about 2:30 p.m.
  • No. 7 Northern Illinois (19-12, 10-8) vs. No. 2 Ohio (25-4, 14-4), about 5 p.m.
  • No. 6 Toledo (20-10, 11-7) vs. No. 3 Miami 22-7, 13-5), about 7:30 p.m.

Games start a half hour after the previous one ends.

All games are on ESPN+, which costs $4.99 per month.

Friday’s semifinals 

  • Central Michigan-Eastern Michigan winner vs. Buffalo-Kent State winner, 11 a.m.
  • Ohio-Northern Illinois winner vs. Miami-Toledo winner, about 1:30 p.m. 

(Both games on ESPN+)

Saturday’s finals

  • Tipoff is at 11 a.m. on the CBS Sports Network.

Dingle, Thall make all-freshman team; Golden is all-defensive, Carter 3rd-team all-MAC

KSU’s honorees (from left): Alexa Golden, Asiah Dingle, Megan Carter, Lindsey Thall.

Asiah Dingle and Lindsey Thall have made the Mid-American Conference”s all-freshman, Alexa Golden the league’s all-defensive team and Megan Carter third team all-MAC.

The awards were announced today parallel with the start of the MAC Tournament this week.

Central Michigan’s Reyna Frost was player of the year, Central coach Sue Guevara coach of the year and Ohio’s Erica Johnson freshman of the year.

Media members (including me) voted on the coaching, player of the year and freshman of the year honors. Coaches chose the rest.

We each picked a first, second and third choice. First choices earned three points, second two and third one. (That’s what the numbers mean after a player’s name. The first is first-place votes, the second total votes.)

Here are the award winners, with some commentary from me in italics.

MAC Player of the Year

  • Senior forward Reyna Frost, Central Michigan (35 – 124)
  • Senior guard Cierra Dillard, Buffalo (7 – 75)
  • Junior guard Lauren Dickerson, Miami (1 – 8)
  • Sophomore guard Cierra “Cece” Hooks, Ohio (1 – 7)

In most years, Frost, Dillard or Central guard Presley Hudson easily would have won the award. We just got three big-time players in one years.

Frost’s statistical line is almost unbelievable: 24.8 points a game (second in league), 15.1 rebounds (first), 1.6 blocks (third), 57.1 shooting percentage (third), 2.3 assists. Those are all conference-game-only statistics. Her overall stats are slightly lower. Frost also has a 3.68 GPA in mathematics.

Dillard is second-leading scorer in the country (25.0 point a game) — and the second-best player in the MAC. Hudson was my preseason prediction for player of the year. She has been a terrific shooter and a terrific playmaker since her freshman year. (I don’t know why she’s not on the MAC’s list. She was listed on my ballot, and I voted her third; perhaps they wouldn’t put two from the same team in the finals.)

Coach of the Year

  • Sue Guevara, Central Michigan (21 – 100)
  • Bob Boldon, Ohio (10 – 81)
  • Megan Duffy, Miami (9 – 56)
  • Felisha Legette-Jack, Buffalo (2 – 14)
  • Todd Starkey Kent State (2 – 10)

Guevara was the best coach of the league’s best team, which usually wins the award. I voted for Bob Boldon of Ohio; his team played above expectations more than any other. That’s my definition of good coaching. 

Starkey did a very good job this year, taking a young team and winning 19 games (and counting).

Freshman of the year

  • Guard/forward Erica Johnson, Ohio (40 – 129)
  • Guard Asiah Dingle, Kent State (3 – 84)
  • Guard Jenna Annecchiarico, Eastern Michigan (1 – 32)

Kent State’s Dingle (and Lindsay Thall, who wasn’t on the ballot for some reason) were great freshmen. But Ohio’s Johnson did it all. She was the highest scoring freshman in the league (15.2 points per game) and rebounding (6.9). She was among the top 20 of all players in field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, assists, steals and 3-point baskets per game, Johnson redshirted her freshman year after reinsuring her knee late in her high school career.

Sixth Player of the Year

  • Freshman guard/forward Erica Johnson, Ohio

It’s a stretch to call her a sixth player. She started 16 games and most of the conference season.

Defensive Player of the Year

  • Sophomore guard Cierra (Cece) Hooks, Ohio

I was pulling for Kent State’s Alexa Golden, but she did make the all-defensive team (below). But Hooks is very good.

All-Freshman Team

  • Guard Asiah Dingle, Kent State
  • Forward Lindsey Thall, Kent State
  • Guard/forward Erica Johnson, Ohio
  • Forward Thelma Dis Agustsdottir, Ball State
  • Guard Morgan McMillen, Bowling Green

Dingle and Thall are Kent State’s first players on the all-freshman team since Chenel Harris in 2008.

It’s the third time KSU has had multiple players on the team. Michelle Burden, Kathy Carroll and Tracey Lynn all made it in 1991. Gwen Hurley and Carrie Templin made it in 1995.

All-Defensive Team

  • Senior guard Alexa Golden, Kent State
  • Senior forward Reyna Frost, Central Michigan
  • Sophomore guard Cierra “Cece” Hooks, Ohio
  • Senior center Kaayla McIntyre, Toledo
  • Senior guard Deja Wimby, Western Michigan

Golden’s is the one award I most wanted for Kent State. She’s been the soul of the team’s defense for four years and had never made the all-defensive team.

All-MAC First Team

  • Senior guard Cierra Dillard, Buffalo
  • Senior forward Reyna Frost, Central Michigan
  • Senior guard Presley Hudson, Central Michigan
  • Junior guard Lauren Dickerson, Miami
  • Sophomore guard Cierra “Cece” Hooks, Ohio

I had Toledo senior center Kaayla McIntyre instead of Dickerson.

All-MAC Second Team

  • Senior guard Megan Sefcik, Akron
  • Junior forward Summer Hemphill, Buffalo
  • Junior forward Savannah Kluesner, Miami
  • Senior guard Mikayla Voigt, Northern Illinois
  • Senior center Kaayla McIntyre, Toledo

All-MAC Third Team

  • Junior guard/forward Andrea Cecil, Bowling Green
  • Sophomore guard Micaela Kelly, Central Michigan
  • Junior guard Megan Carter, Kent State
  • Junior guard Amani Burke, Ohio
  • Redshirt freshman guard/forward Erica Johnson, Ohio

Nice to see Carter here. She worked so hard on her consistency since last season. In preseason, Starkey said she could be an all-MAC player. He was right.

All-MAC Honorable Mention

  • Sophomore forward Oshlynn Brown, Ball State
  • Senior guard Danielle Minott, Eastern Michigan
  • Senior guard/forward Kendall McCoy, Miami
  • Senior guard Mikaela Boyd, Toledo
  • Senior guard Deja Wimby, Western Michigan


Link to full MAC release.

Flashes roar into MAC quarterfinals with 86-62 trouncing of Bowling Green

BG celebration2

Sophomore Amanda Sape celebrates with seniors Alexa Golden (back to camera) and Merissa Barber-Smith (facing camera in background) after KSU’s win over Bowling Green. Barber-Smith had the best game of her career with 20 rebounds and 10 points. (Photo by Austin Mariasy)


Kent State’s women’s basketball team is doing what every team wants at this time of the year — playing its best basketball as it starts postseason play.

The Flashes pounded Bowling Green 86-62 Wednesday at the M.A.C. Center in the first-round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament . They advance to play fourth-seeded Buffalo at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena. KSU is seeded fifth.

Kent’s record is 19-11 and equals its total from two years ago, when the Flashes won the MAC East Division in coach Todd Starkey’s first season.

Bowling Green was the MAC’s last place team, but it had beaten Kent State 62-49 at BG nine days ago.

Since then, the Flashes have played three of their best games of the season — a 65-55 overtime victory at Akron, a 62-53 win over Buffalo at home Saturday and Monday’s rout of Bowling Green.

“Losing at their place may have ended up being a blessing in disguise,” Starkey said. “It got our attention. We came out and started really well, and we told them at the end of the first quarter, ‘This is who we are. This is what we’re capable of all the time.’ ”

The Flashes led 25-7, and Bowling Green never got closer than 16 points after that.

“We’ve said since the beginning of the year that if we can put together four good quarters of basketball, we have a chance to be a really nice team,” Starkey said. “And that’s what we’ve been doing lately, which is nice because it’s the right time to start playing your best basketball. We’ve shown more consistency on both ends of the court — better offensive execution and pretty rigid bend-but-not-break defense.”

If the Flashes played one of their best games of the season, senior Merissa Barber-Smith played the best game of her life.

She grabbed 20 rebounds, tying Cici Shannon’s total of three years ago for seventh highest in school history. The last time anyone had more was in 1992.

Barber-Smith scored 10 points for the first double-double of her career in her last home game.

Starkey kept her in the game to make sure she got the double-double and the 20th rebound.

Rebounding, she said, was no problem.

“I looked up after the first half and saw I had 12,” Barber-Smith said. “And I said, ‘I can do better. 12 more and I’ll have 24.’ And I’m like, ‘Keep me in the game as long as possible. I will get you rebounds.‘  That’s my speciality.”

And the double-double?

It was the middle of the fourth quarter and she had grabbed one of her nine offensive rebounds.

“I was just like, ‘Let me just take this to the hole. Maybe it’ll go in.‘”

And, of course, it did. Barber-Smith, who at one point this season was shooting less than 35 percent from the field, made 5-of-6 field goal attempts. Against Buffalo on Saturday, she made 4-of-5.

Her shots have been putbacks of offensive rebounds and short-range shots. On one play Monday, she took a pass from guard Asiah Dingle and laid it in.

I work on it in shoot-around,” she said. “I work on it after shoot-around. I want them to trust me to make layups. And I want them to know that if they miss, I’ll be behind them to rebound it and put it back or pass out for another possession.”

Starkey marveled about how well she’s playing.

“20 rebounds is ridiculous,” he said. “I’m really proud of her. She’s always been a talented rebounder and shot blocker. She’s getting more minutes now that she’s in good game shape. She’s executing better offensively so we can keep her on the floor longer, and she’s feeding off of that. She’s playing with more confidence, and we’re just letting her go with it.”

When Barber-Smith came off the court after her 20th rebound, her teammates met her with cheers, and fans gave her a standing ovation.

“The rest of our players really want to send Merissa and Alexa out on as high a note as possible,” Starkey said. “That’s a great thing for a coach to see — that a team cares so much about their seniors that they’re willing to give everything they have for them.”

“Alexa” is fellow senior Alexa Golden, who had nine points but played a near-season low of 20 minutes because of foul trouble. She had been averaging almost 35 in conference play, so the fewer minutes might even have been good for her and the team. She’s been playing on sore and tired legs.

Dingle scored 25 points, four off her season high, equaled her freshman-year high of six assists and had four steals. She made 7-of-13 field-goal attempts, a definite positive for her. Her shooting percentage has been below 40 for most of the conference season, in large part because her signature drives to the basket sometimes led to out-of-control shots.

“I’m definitely trying to keep my eyes up to look for the rim and to look for the open player,” Dingle said. “If I see an open lane, I’ll take it. If everyone is focused on me and the ball, I know I have Mer or Lindsey inside or Megan and Lex at the three-point line.”

Starkey said it’s something the coaches have been pushing.

“She’s been dong a good job of picking her spots and not just driving with blinders on,” he said. “We’re really trying to get her in spots where she can drive early when the defense isn’t set, or after we’ve executed something on offense and she’s catching the ball after the second touch.”

The coach said the team is moving the ball better on offense and was delighted that his team had 16 assists on 31 baskets. It was the second straight game the Flashes have had assists on more than half their baskets. That has happened 13 times this season. KSU has won nine of those games. The losses were by two-point twice to second-place Ohio, once by nine points to Buffalo and by five points to Duquesne, a team that is 19-13.

KSU’s 16 assists were its second highest of the season.

“That’s huge for us,” Starkey said “It means we’re really sharing the ball. We’re playing with more maturity on the offensive end right when we need it the most.”

Box score


  • Five Kent State players scored in double figures for the first time since 2010. Besides Dingle’s and Barber-Smith’s 10, Ali Poole had 14 points, Megan Carter 12 and Lindsey Thall 11. Golden’s nine points almost gave the Flashes six.
  • Kent State made 50.4 percent of its shots, 13 points above its average and only the third time this season it’s made more than half. The Flashes shot 26.9 percent in its loss to BG on March 2. On Monday, KSU made 10 of 22 3-point shots for 45.5 percent, its third highest of the season.
  • Kent held Bowling Green to 29 percent shooting in the first half and 37 percent for the game. The Flashes held BG’s leading scorer, Andrea Cecil, to zero points in the first half. She finished the game with 17 and 11 rebounds.
  • Bowling Green finished the season 9-21 overall and 2-16 in the MAC regular season.
  • The Flashes scored 17 points off of 15 Bowling Green turnovers. The Falcons scored seven off of 17 KSU turnovers. Mostly thanks to Barber-Smith, Kent State outscored BG 19-3 on second-chance points.
  • Thall and Barber-Smith each blocked three shots. Kent State led the MAC in team blocked shots in the regular season.
  • With 18 seconds left and to the cheers of her teammates, sophomore Monique Smith scored her third basket of the seasons. All 13 KSU players who dress for the game got in. Sophomore Margaux Eibel was in seats on the bench.
  • Dingle made 11-of-14 foul shots. Over the last three games, she’s 23 of 29.
  • Attendance was 1,323, third highest of the season.

Other first-round scores

  • No. 9 seed Eastern Michigan (14-16, 6-12 MAC regular season) 61, No. 8 Akron (16-14, 7-11) 59 at Akron.
  • No. 7 Northern Illinois (19-12, 10-8) 70, No. 10 Western Michigan (10-20, 4-14) 69.
  • No. 6 Toledo (20-10, 11-7) 67, No. 11 Ball State (3-15, 8-23) 63.

Wednesday’s quarterfinals

(at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland)

  • No. 9 Eastern Michigan vs. No. 1 Central Michigan (24-6, 15-3), noon.
  • No. 5 Kent State  vs. No. 4 Buffalo (20-9, 12=6), about 2:30 p.m.
  • No. 7 Northern Illinois vs. No. 2 Ohio (25-4, 14-4), about 5 p.m.
  • No. 6 Toledo vs. No. 3 Miami 22-7, 13-5), about 7:30 p.m.

Games start a half hour after the previous one ends.

All games are on ESPN+, which costs $4.99 per month.

Friday’s semifinals (at the Q)

  • Central Michigan-Eastern Michigan winner vs. Buffalo-Kent State winner, 11 a.m.
  • Ohio-Northern Illinois winner vs. Miami-Toledo winner, about 1:30 p.m. 

(All games on ESPN+)

Saturday’s finals (at the Q)

  • Tipoff is at 11 a.m. on the CBS Sports Network.

Tournament tickets

 From KSU email at 2 a.m. Tuesday:

The Kent State Women’s Basketball team has advanced to the Quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament. The game will take place Wednesday, March 13, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Tickets for the game are $10.

The Women are the #5 seed and will take on Buffalo, the #4 seed, in the second game played on Wednesday. Tip-off for that game depends on the ending of the first game but is estimated to begin around 2:30 p.m.

To reserve your tickets for the game, you can call the Ticket Office at 330-672-2244 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12, or click here. We will be accepting orders until 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Different than years past, all tickets will be picked up from the Kent State table inside the Media Entrance of Quicken Loans Arena (SouthEast Corner/Progressive Field side). You will go through security first, and then receive you ticket at the table.

For everyone that purchases tickets for the Quarterfinal game, we will send an email regarding what time those will be available for pick-up at the arena.

You may also reserve tickets for the Semifinals and Finals of the MAC Tournament. You will not be charged for those tickets until we know we are playing in those rounds. If we do not advance to those games, you will not be charged and we will not have any tickets available for purchase.

Kent State Alumni and Fans…Join the Golden Flashes Club for a pre-game FLASH fan reception, beginning 90 minutes prior to any tournament Women’s game, March 13th-16th at Flannery’s Pub, a short walk to Quicken Loans Arena. Complimentary appetizers while they last will be served.



If you want tickets straight from the MAC, here’s a link to its tournament page, which also the bracket and statistics. You also can buy premium seats.

One ticket is good for all of the women’s games for that day.


Student buses and tickets

From the KSU website:

Students can get free MAC Tournament tickets and and a bus trip to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for every men’s and women’s Golden Flash basketball games. Students can reserve a bus spot for each potential game with a $10 Deposit per seat per game.

Reservations will can be made on Tuesday, March 12, from 11:a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the Student Center on the Second Floor. Student ID’s required with a $10 cash deposit per seat / per game. Seats are limited.

Tuesday, March 12th – Friday, March 15th  from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Buses will leave from the Front of the MAC Center two hours prior to a game to be played at Quicken Loans. 100 spots available for all men’s Games. 50 Spots available for all women’s games. Please arrive 20 minutes early for each departure, as the buses will depart on time.

Women’s Basketball – 5th Seed
Wednesday, March 13 – Bus will leave TBD
Friday, March 15 – Bus will leave TBD.*
Saturday, March 16 – Bus will leave TBD*
*Tentative – based on seeding and wins

Men’s Basketball – 4th Seed
Thursday, March 14 – Bus will leave at 12:30 p.m.
Friday, March 15 – Bus will leave at 4:30 p.m.*
Saturday, March 16 – Bus will leave at 5:30 p.m.*
*Tentative – based on wins


‘She just wants to win’: How Alexa Golden fell in love with basketball

Women's Basketball V Youngstown 2
Guard Alexa Golden has started 103 games since her freshman year. (KentWired photo by Carter Adams.)


Gina Butkovich covers the women’s basketball team for KentWired.com, the online news site for the Kent Stater and TV2. (She’s also a student in the Reporting class I teach this semester.)



Alexa Golden has an ice pack on both shoulders, both knees and both ankles. It unbalances her enough that as she walks out of the locker room after a win over Akron, she immediately trips over a stranded box in the hallway.

Multiple pairs of hands reach out to try and catch her, but she straightens out and laughs.

Someone jokes that she looks like a football player, and Kent State coach Todd Starkey nods.

“She’s a whatever-it-takes player,” he said.

Golden goes into her final games as a Kent State basketball player this week at the MAC Tournament. She has been Kent State’s best defensive player through the 103 games she has started over four years.

Golden has been playing basketball for 14 years.

“I was not a sports person at all,” Golden said. “And then, there was a basketball clinic after school to get girls involved. I signed up for it, and I was not good, couldn’t even make a layup. But I guess I worked hard, and after the lady came up to my mom after and said I should try out for the local team.”

Golden was a third grader, and there was no local third grade team. So she tried out for and made the fourth-grade team.

“That’s when I started to fall in love with basketball.” Golden said.

For the next few years, Golden balanced travel basketball with travel softball. In about sixth grade, her mother made her choose one.

Travel basketball and travel softball both happen during the summer, and Golden remembers her mom saying, “Lex, you really have to pick one because we can’t go from one tournament to the next — all in the same weekend.”

Golden choose basketball.

“Basketball was just faster,” Golden said. “I wasn’t standing around waiting for a ball to come.”

That year was Golden’s second year of playing AAU basketball, an off-season travel league that fosters players growth during the spring and summer months.

“I was surrounded by people that were passionate about the game and wanted to play in college, too,” Golden said. “I think that’s when I started to take it more seriously.”

AAU meant traveling more, playing a different tournament around the country every weekend.

Best Women's Team: 1st Basketball
Then-sophomore point guard Alexa Golden dribbles past the Miami (OH) defense in a game at the M.A.C. Center Feb. 1, 2017. The Golden Flashes won 84-66.

“There was a month where I wasn’t home at all,” Golden said. “It’s a lot of traveling, but it’s something I’m thankful for that my parents allowed me to do. They took me to all the games.”

By the summer before her junior year of high school, Golden’s goal of playing college ball was starting to look less like a dream and more like something that could well happen.

And then, she tore her ACL at a Washington, D.C., tournament and had to sit out her entire junior season.

She hoped to play the summer after her junior year, a crucial time for anyone who wants to play in college, but her doctor wouldn’t allow it.

“Being on the court has always been more important to her than anything,” said Nancy Watts, Golden’s mother. “It was about healing and getting better and having the best opportunity to come back without re-injuring the ACL.”

Golden finally got to return to the court her senior year; She committed to play at Kent State before the season started.

“I’ve been coming around Kent since my sophomore year,” Golden said. “Every since I’ve been coming, it’s felt like home, and I couldn’t picture myself being anywhere else.”

Kent State sophomore guard Alexa Golden drives to the basket against the Akron defense on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at James A. Rhodes Arena. The Flashes won, 72-58.

Her parents persuaded her to visit other places to make sure she was certain, but her mom said it was always Kent in Golden’s mind.

Golden’s first year of college basketball was harder than expected.

She played 23 of 29 games, but the team only won six times.

“I’m used to being on a winning team,” Golden said. “It was a struggle to adjust.”

Golden’s freshman year did lead to her bonding with two other freshmen on the team, Megan Carter and Merissa Barber-Smith.

“Our first year wasn’t the best, but growing through that together I think has made our bond a lot stronger,” Carter said. “We saw what we didn’t want to happen and decided to make  something else happen”

The 2016-2017 season saw Kent State win 19 games overall and the MAC East championship.

Kent State’s new coaching staff, including head coach Starkey and associate head coach Fran Recchia, wanted Golden to shoot more.

“She explained to me that her role her freshman year was she wasn’t allowed to shoot,” Recchia said. “We helped her grow through that process and figure out what’s a good shot for her — and that we need her to take those shots. It was fun for me to watch her growth.”

Golden shot 41 percent from the 3-point line her sophomore year, the best on the team. She’s never been a big scorer, but the coaching staff has always viewed her as one of the most important players on the team.

“She just wants to win,” Starkey said. “My favorite players over my 21 years of coaching have been players that hate to lose as much as I do. She’s got to be on the Mount Rushmore of my favorites. She does everything you need her to do to win basketball games. She doesn’t care about accolades or credit. She takes pride in being known as our toughest player.”

Golden has played through injuries that might have sidelined other players.

The only injury that ever sidelined her briefly at KSU was a concussion her freshman year. She has played through everything else — shin splints, tendonitis, bursitis in her Achilles tendon.

Alexa golden photo
Kent State Senior Alexa Golden (#24) receives her plaque and hugs President Beverly Warren

olden brushes off any injury, preferring not to mention when she might be hurting. Her mom, however, doesn’t hesitate to talk about how proud she is of her daughter for fighting through the injuries.

“To see her fight like a warrior through all the pain is really commendable,” said Watts, tearing up a little talking about it. “I really respect her as the young woman she has developed into.”

Golden is heading into her final MAC tournament as a team leader.

“The younger players look up to her,” Recchia said. “They have a lot of respect for her because of what she has been able to do since they got here. They ask a lot of questions of her; they mimic her. Sometimes she doesn’t even realize the younger ones are looking to her, but they have since day one.”

Golden has been one of the best students on the team since she arrived on campus.

She made the MAC all-academic team her sophomore and junior years (freshmen aren’t eligible.)

She got her bachelor’s degree in just two years. Golden had begun taking college courses in high school, both at Duquesne and Pittsburgh, colleges near her home.

“She was always focused on basketball and academics,” Watts said. “It was never social life or anything like that. She’s always had a laser-sharp focus on what she has wanted to do.”

Golden got her bachelor’s in criminal justice, but part way through she realized that she wanted a career in athletics.

“It was too late to change my major,” Golden said. “So I ended up graduating with that degree. And then I did my master’s in sport rec and management.”

Golden will graduate with her master’s at the end of this semester and hopes to be able to go into college coaching or academic athletic counseling, ideally at Kent State.

“I think she’s already a coach on the floor, and it’ll be fun to help her through that transition of coming to the other side,” Recchia said. “It’ll be cool to see her learn the ins and outs of what college coaching is all about.”

Tournament time: Flashes host BG in 1st-round game at 7 p.m. Monday at M.A.C.C.

Golden and Modkins (1)

Freshman Mariah Modkins (left) and senior Alexa Golden celebrate Saturday’s victory over Buffalo. Senior Merissa Barber-Smith is in background. (Photo by David Dermer.)

As Kent State starts MAC Tournament play Monday, coach Todd Starkey says this year’s team may have accomplished even more than his MAC East championship team of two years ago.

The Flashes play Bowling Green at 7 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center in a first-round game. Winner advances to play Buffalo in the quarterfinals Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

“I think we’re having an unbelievable year, based on having half a roster that’s brand new and 45 percent of our scoring coming from freshmen,” Starkey said after Kent State’s overtime win in Akron last week, one of two big victories that ended the  regular season. “That’s the narrative of this year. Everybody wants to talk about our first year of being the best year we’ve had.

“Well, statistically speaking, where we are, the schedule we’ve played, and what we positioned ourselves for, this is the best year we’ve had. We’re 17-11 and 10-7 (now 18-11 and 11-7) in the toughest the MAC has ever been.

“Would I have liked to have won a few more games? Sure. But there’s probably several games we could have lost, too. But we’ve had a really good year.”

KSU’s loss at Bowling Green nine days ago is one of those games the Flashes — at least on paper — should have won. The Falcons have been mired in last place in the MAC the entire season. But when the teams met in BG, almost nothing went right for Kent State on offense. The Flashes missed 25 two-point shots, 24 three-point shots and 10 foul shots. Some of that was Bowling Green’s defense, but Starkey said that after looking at tape of the game, a lot of those shots were well-selected. They just missed.

If you don’t shoot the ball well against any team in the league, you can lose,” Starkey said.

Shooting has been Kent State’s biggest problem all season. The Flashes are last in the league in field goal percentage at 37.1 percent. That’s a full 2 points behind Eastern Michigan, the next-worst team, and 11 points behind Central Michigan, the best-shooting team in the league.

In the two MAC games, the Flashes probably should have won (Bowling Green and a 48-44 loss at 11th-place Ball State), Kent State shot below 27 percent. In two four-point wins over 10th-place Western Michigan, KSU shot less than 34 percent.

At the first practice I saw before the season started, Starkey said something like, “Aren’t you seeing the ball going into the basket a lot more?”

Well, sometimes. Unfortunately, not all that often.

Instead the Flashes have won on defense.

“That’s been our backbone,” Starkey said. “We chart out in the top five in the league in about every category in defensive statistics.”

Senior Alexa Golden, the team’s defensive leader for four years, explained it this way at Akron.

“We have a more athletic team,” she said.. “We have more people that can sit in front of the other teams’ guards. Our posts should get a lot of credit; they’ve played really good defense. We’re just more of an all-round team.”


So is it really been a better season that 2017-18? We won’t really know until after the tournament and, probably, a second WNIT bid in three years.

The wonder of the team two years ago was that its success came out of nowhere. The Flashes won more games than Kent State had won the four previous years combined. So Starkey and his assistants took a team that had known only defeat and taught it to win. That was a magical accomplishment.

This year’s team has certainly exceeded by expectations. Starkey’s, too, to read between the lines of some interviews. I thought the Flashes had a chance at a .500 season — maybe a touch better. We could describe this year’s success like that: Starkey and his staff — and upperclassmen like Golden, Megan Carter, Ali Poole and Merissa Barber-Smith — helped a group of high school stars learn how to win in college.

Either year was pretty special.

Some numbers if you want compare:


Finished 19-13. Third in the MAC (first in the East) with a 13-5 record. RPI: 99 of 351 teams. Schedule strength: 99. MAC ranking in RPI: 10th of 31 conferences. Lost in the MAC quarterfinals to Toledo in the last minute. Lost to eventual champion Michigan in the first round of the WNIT.


Currently 18-11 with at least one game to play. I’d bet on at least three — two in the MAC Tournament and a WNIT game. Fifth in MAC (fourth in the East) with an 11-7 record. RPI: 72. Schedule strength: 78. MAC ranking: Eighth.

About Monday’s tournament game

Bowling Green (2-16 MAC, 9-20 overall) at Kent State (11-7 and 18-11) at 7 p.m. Monday at the M.A.C Center.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: It’s tournament time: Win or go home. Monday’s winner  advances to play quarterfinals to play fourth-seeded Buffalo at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

About Bowling Green

IN THE MAC: Last at 2-16. Only wins were against fourth-place Buffalo and fifth-place Kent State, both at home.

RPI: 214 of 351 teams. Schedule strength: 80. Road record: 2-13. Falcons have lost six of last seven. They split season series with Kent State, winning at BG 62-49 and losing in Kent 77-73.

LAST GAME: Lost at Ohio 76-66 Saturday.

KEY TEAM STATS (conference statistics only)

  • Scores 66.8 points a game, seventh in MAC. Opponents score 77.1 (last).
  • Field goal percentage: 41.2 (fifth). Field goal defense: 43.0 (10th).
  • 3-point percentage: 34.3 (third). 3-point baskets per game: 7.9 (fourth). Three-point defense: 33.6 (eighth). Free-throw percentage: 73.3 (fifth).
  • Rebounding margin: Minus-2.6 (eighth). Turnover margin: Minus-4.9 (last).


  • 6-1 junior wing Andrea Cecil: 15.8 points per game, 10th in MAC.  Field goal percent: 44.1, (sixth). Free-throw percentage: 90.6 (second). Rebounds: 6.1 (19th).
  • 5-9 freshman guard Morgan McMillen: 10.6 points. 3-point percentage: 34.6 (eighth). Three-pointers per game: 2.5 (sixth).
  • 5-8 senior guard Sidney Lambert: 12.4 points. Assists: 3.4 (12th). Free-throw percentage: 81.4 (fourth). Rebounds: 5.2.
  • 5-9 freshman guard Kadie Kempfling: 6.5 rebounds, (15th).

Kent State

IN THE MAC: Tied for fifth with Toledo at 11-7.

RPI: 72, a season high, and highest of at least eight years. (Buffalo and Akron wins helped them jump 16 spots in the last week. Schedule strength: 78. Home  record: 11-3. Has won two in a row and six of last nine.

LAST GAME: Beat fourth-place Buffalo 62-53 Saturday in Kent.

KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)

  • 67.1 points a game (eighth). Opponents average 64.7 (third).
  • Field goal percentage: 37.9 (last). Field goal defense: 40.6 (fourth).
  • 3-point percentage: 35.3 (second). 3-point baskets per game: 7.6  (fourth). 3-point defense: 32.6 (sixth).
  • Rebounding margin: Plus-0.9 (fifth). Turnover margin: Plus-2.0  (fourth)
  • Blocked shots: 3.8 (first). Steals: 8.6 (third).


  • 5-7 redshirt junior guard Megan Carter: 16.3 points, ninth in MAC. Field-goal percentage: 40.2 (ninth). 3-point percentage: 40.8. Free-throw percentage: 74.0  (12th).
  • 5-4 freshman point guard Asiah Dingle: 13.1 points (18th). Free-throw percentage: 76.3 (ninth). Steals: 2.1 (sixth). Assists: 2.3 (24th).
  • 6-2 freshman forward Lindsey Thall: 10.8 points. 3-point percentage: 45.8 (first). Three-point baskets per game: 2.1 (10th). Blocked shots: 1.9 (first). Rebounds: 5.1.
  • 5-9 senior guard Alexa Golden: 9.1 points. 3-point percentage: (10th). Steals: 3.2 (first). Assists: 3.1 (15th). Blocks: 0.7 (16th). Rebounds: 6.4 (17th).
  • 6-4 center Merissa Barber-Smith: 7.2 rebounds (11th), 0.8 blocks (13th).
  • 6-0 junior guard Ali Poole: 9.7 points. 3-point baskets per game: 1.6  (19th). Rebounds: 4.4.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Every number favors Kent State except this one: Bowling Green 62, Kent State 49 on March 2.

To follow the game

The game starts at 7 p.m. Monday at M.A.C. Center. Season-ticket holders can pick up free tickets at the ticket office during the day or before the game. All other tickets are $10.

Audio starts at about 6:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. Jacob Pavilack does play-by-play.

Video is through ESPN+,  which costs $4.99 a month and includes all tournament games except the women’s finals and the men’s semifinals and finals, which are broadcast elsewhere. ESPN+ also televises some other league tournaments. You can watch it through your cable or satellite company, on your computer or the ESPN app. Click on the link, and it will guide you on how to pay. David Wilson and Henry Palattella are the announcers.

Live statistics are available through the Kent State website.


MAC Tournament Central, including brackets and Quicken Loans Arena ticket information for both men and women, along with information on free student tickets and bus rides to games in Cleveland.

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

Detailed media notes for Kent State.

Preview from Bowling Green website, including links.

Detailed media notes for Bowling Green.

Final MAC conference-game statistics, including link to full-season stats.

Final MAC standings


Flashes seize 5th seed and tournament momentum with 62-53 win over Buffalo

Buffalo win (1)

Seniors Merissa Barber-Smith (22) and Alexa Golden (24) lead their team to the Victory Bell after KSU’s 62-53 over Buffalo Saturday. (Photo by Austin Mariasy.)


Kent State’s defense carried it to an 18-11 record this season.

Senior Alexa Golden has been the heart of the KSU defense for four years.

So it’s more than appropriate that Golden and the Flashes held Buffalo to its lowest point total of the year on Senior Day as they upset the Bulls 62-53 Saturday.

The victory gives Kent State a fifth seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, which starts at 7 p.m. Monday with a game against last-place Bowling Green in the M.A.C. Center. KSU finished 11-7 and tied for fifth with Toledo in the MAC and gets the higher seed because it beat Toledo 58-47 in January.

Buffalo finishes the regular season in fourth place at 12-6 (20-9 overall). If Kent beats Bowling Green Monday, Buffalo and KSU will play again in the quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena at about 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

“You could tell we were locked in from the jump,” Golden said. “Usually it takes us awhile to get acclimated. But we started fast, we were communicating, we were talking, and we knew what we had to do to win.”

The Flashes had one of their fastest starts of the season, especially against a good team. They forced Buffalo turnovers on its first two possession and raced to a 10-3 lead. Kent State never trailed in the game.

“We had four solid quarters,” coach Todd Starkey said, something has been seeking all season and hasn’t gotten a great deal. “On defense, we did a really good job. It’s been something we’ve been able to rely on all year. The games we’ve lost haven’t been because of defense. It’s lack of offense and poor shooting.

“So it’s nice to have a game like this in your back pocket going into tournament time. The old adage is, ‘Defense wins championships.’ I think you’ve got to have balanced attack — equal parts offense and defense. I think we have the potential to do that. If we shoot the ball on Monday and moving forward, there isn’t anybody in the league we can’t beat.

Kent State’s defense Saturday held Buffalo’s Cierra Dillard, the second-leading scorer in the country at 25.5 points a game, seven points below her average. Dillard fouled out with 6:15 to go on a major hustle play by freshman Asiah Dingle.

Dingle had missed the second of two free throws, but wiggled her way toward the basket chasing the rebound. Dillard ran into her from behind. KSU was leading 50-46 at the time.

That was monumental,” Golden said. “That totally changed the tone of the game; they had to play without their best player.”

Golden did much of the defense on Dillard.

“She’s a great player,” Golden said. “We knew she was gong to get hers, and she was going to take 20 shots in the game. It was just making sure those she did take tough shots.”

Golden also had eight assists, a career high and the most for a Kent State player this season.

“Eight assists?” Starkey said when he was told the statistic. “She just continues to amaze me. If she has opportunities to score, she will. But she gets it. She just wants to win.

“My favorite players over 21 years of coaching have always been players who hate to lose as much as I do. She’s got to be on the Mount Rushmore of my favorites. She does everything you need her to do to win basketball games. She doesn’t care about accolades or credit. She takes pride in being known as our toughest player.”

Kent State had 12 assists on 20 baskets, something Starkey called “the stat of the game.”

“We did a really good job of sharing the basketball, moving it and not over-dribbling,” he said.

A number of those assists went to junior Ali Poole, who scored 15 points off the bench. It was the most points she had scored in three weeks.

“I got a couple of really nice passes that kind of led me to the hoop,” Poole said. “And the 3s fell — just one of those days, I guess.”

“She did a really good job of moving without the ball and just taking the shots that were there to take,” Starkey said. “She does a great job of spacing and spreading the floor.”

Poole shared her position with senior Merissa Barber-Smith, who fought foul trouble for much of the night but still had five rebounds and two blocked shots. Starkey alternated them on offense (Poole) and defense (Barber-Smith) much of the game.

Barber-Smith had the most astonishing statistic of the game. She played just 12 minutes, didn’t score a point, and even her five rebounds were below her average. But while she was on the floor, Kent State scored 18 more points than Buffalo did.

Barber-Smith and freshman Lindsey Thall did the bulk of guarding Summer Hemphill, Buffalo’s second-leading scorer and the MAC leader in field-goal percentage at 61.0. She went 0-for-5 Saturday.

Honoring the seniors (and the president)

Golden and Barber-Smith were honored before the game with the traditional framed jersey and a recitation of their accomplishments.

Barber brought her nine-month-old son and boyfriend to the floor with her.

Golden was in tears as she and her parents hugged each other and Starkey.

KSU President Beverly Warren seemed a little teary herself as she accepted a framed picture of her and the team.

Then Golden went out and played 33 minutes.

“The ceremony was over, and the ball went up,” she said. “It was time to play.

Box score


  • Buffalo’s 53 points were 24 below its conference average. The Bulls were second in the league in scoring. They made only 13 of 50 field-goal attempts (26 percent). Kent State ranks fourth in the MAC in scoring defense; Buffalo’s total was 12 points below KSU’s defensive average.
  • The Bulls were second in MAC turnover margin at plus-2.6. Kent State was third at plus-2.4. But the Flashes got the better of Saturday’s battle, and it won them the game. KSU scored 18 points off of 18 Buffalo turnovers; the Bulls scored eight off of 15 KSU turnovers.
  • Kent State held Buffalo scoreless over the last three minutes of the game.
  • Referees called 52 fouls in the game — 28 on Kent State and 24 on Buffalo. Dillard and Buffalo’s Finess Dickson fouled out, and three other Bulls and five KSU players had four fouls. The two teams combined to shoot 30 free throws in the fourth quarter and made 25 of them.
  • Dingle led the Flashes with 16 points, including 8-of-11 foul shots. Poole had 15 points and Megan Carter and Thall 11. Dillard and Theresa Onwuka each had 18 for Buffalo.
  • Thall blocked five shots, the second highest of her freshman season. She is second in the league in blocks. She also had a career-high three assists and played a career-high 39 minutes.
  • Kent State outscored Buffalo 22-16 in the paint and 14-10 on second-chance points, even though they were outrebounded 38-30.
  • The Flashes made 20 of 52 field-goal attempts for 38 percent, slightly above their average.
  • Attendance was announced at 1,731, second highest of the season. It took Kent State’s home average above 1,000 for the first time in at least 12 years.

The MAC Tournament

MONDAY (at campus sites)

  • No. 9 seed Eastern Michigan (6-12 MAC, 13-16 overall) at No. 8 Akron 7-11, 16-13).
  • No. 12 Bowling Green (2-16, 9-20) at No. 5 Kent State (11-7, 18-11).
  • No. 10 Western Michigan ((4-14, 10-19) at No. 7 Northern Illinois (10-6, 18-12).
  • No. 11 Ball State (3-15, 8-22) at No. 6 Toledo (11-7, 19-10).

(All games broadcast on ESPN+)


(at Quick Loans Arena in Cleveland)

  • No. 1 Central Michigan (15-3, 24-6) vs. Eastern Michigan-Akron winner, noon.
  • No. 4 Buffalo (12-6, 20-9) vs. Kent State-Bowling Green winner, about 2:30 p.m.
  • No. 2 Ohio (14-4, 25-4) vs. Northern Illinois-Western Michigan winner., about 5 p.m.
  • No. 3 Miami (13-5, 22-7) vs. Toledo-Ball State winner, about 7:30 p.m.

(Games start a half hour after previous one ends.)

(All games broadcast on ESPN+)


Friday, March 15th, 2019 — Semifinals

  • Central Michigan-EMU/Akron winner vs. Buffalo-KSU/Bowling Green winner, 11 a.m.
  • Ohio-NIU/Western Michigan winner vs. Miami-Toledo/Ball State winner, about 1:30 p.m. 

(All games broadcast on ESPN+)


  • Tipoff is at 11 a.m. on the CBS Sports Network.

Saturday scores

  • Ohio 76, Bowling Green 68 at Ohio.
  • Central Michigan 78, Toledo 45 at Central.
  • Miami 66, Akron 49 at Miami.
  • Eastern Michigan 67, Ball State 57 at Ball State.
  • Northern Illinois 74, Western Michigan 71 at Western.
  • Kent State 62, Buffalo 53 at Kent State.

Final MAC standings

Final MAC statistics

Flashes, Barber-Smith, Golden prepare for Saturday’s Senior Day vs. Buffalo

Seniors (1)

Seniors Merissa Barber-Smith (22) and Alexa Golden and coach Todd Starkey ham it up  in the team website’s promotion for Senior Day.


Kent State plays Buffalo Saturday in a game that means almost nothing in the standings and so much to a pair of KSU seniors.

It will be Senior Day at 2 p.m. last the M.A.C. Center, honoring Alexa Golden and Merissa Barber-Smith. Golden has been a four-year starter at guard and the soul of Kent’s defense; Barber-Smith has developed into an outstanding rebounder and defender.

It won’t be Golden and Barber-Smith’s last game at home. They and their teammates will play a first-round league tournament game at the M.A.C.C. on Monday, time and opponent to be decided after Saturday’s game.

The Flashes are 10-7 in the MAC and will get a fifth or sixth seed in the tournament.   17-11 overall. Buffalo is 12-5 and 19-9 and will get a third or fourth seed, depending on Saturday’s results here and in other games.

Coach Todd Starkey couldn’t say enough about his seniors after KSU’s overtime win against Akron Wednesday.

“I’m as proud of them as I’ve ever been about graduating seniors,” he said. “They’ve bought in from Day One and have listened and have given us everything.”

The two were recruited by former coach Danny O’Banion and struggled through the coach’s final 6-23 season. They played major roles in Starkey’s first season, when the Flashes surprised everyone with a 19-13 record and a MAC East divisional championship. Last year’s team was 13-19; Barber-Smith couldn’t even play after Christmas because of a medical issue.

And this season they have mentored a roster that is 50 percent different than last season’s and features four freshmen in major roles.

Both have had their best years in 2018-19.

Golden is among MAC leaders in four different categories, including first in the league in steals during conference play. (At this point in the season, that’s the only statistic I pay attention to. What players did in November doesn’t reflect how they’re playing now.)

Golden has never been a huge scorer — her 8.5-point average this season is the best in her four years. But she’s been the team’s best defensive player since her first game and does a million things that don’t show in statistics. When O’Banion announced Golden’s official commitment to Kent State, she called her an archetype “glue player.” After the Akron game, Starkey called her a “whatever-it-takes player.”

Early next week, the MAC will announce its year-end awards, including the league’s all-defensive team. Golden has never been on it; I fervently hope they’ll correct that error.

Golden played at Chartiers Valley High School in suburban Pittsburgh. Her family and friends are frequent visitors to Kent for games.

Barber-Smith has had tough road through life on her way toward graduation in May. She grew up in a Chicago neighborhood that her mother wanted her family out of so much she sent them to her grandmother in Madison, Wisconsin, when Barber-Smith was 11 years old. After her mother was able to join them, they had to spend a few weeks in a homeless shelter. Kent Stater sports editor Henry Palattella told her story in this November 2017 article.

Barber-Smith played sparingly her freshman year at Kent State. When Starkey arrived, she found a role as Kent State’s first line of defense against tall, physical opponents. That season Starkey credited her with making the difference in three important victories; without her, there would have been no MAC East title. Playing in the WNIT against the University of Michigan and its All-American center, Barber-Smith had 13 rebounds and eight points in just 19 minutes.

After a solid non-conference season last year, Barber-Smith never played a conference game. “People don’t realize how much we missed her,” Starkey said before this season. If she had played and made the difference in three games again, KSU’s disappointing 13-19 season would have been an happier .500 year.

This season she’s been a part-time starter, depending on the size of the opposing front line. She leads the MAC in a very unofficial statistic — rebounds per minute played. Barber-Smith is eighth in the conference overall in rebounding though she averages just 16.5 minutes in a 40-minute game. Her rebounds per minute number is .44.

The league leader in rebounds in Central Michigan’s Reyna Frost, a major candidate for MAC player of the year. Frost averages 15.4 rebounds a game, two above the current conference record. She averages 37.7 minutes a game, the most in the MAC. Her rebounds per minute average: .41 — less than Barber-Smith.

Kent State’s 6-4 center has played the best basketball of her career over the Flashes’ last four games, averaging 13.0 rebounds a game.

The Buffalo game

Buffalo (12-5 MAC, 20-8 overall) at Kent State (10-7, 17-11) at 2 p.m. Saturday at the M.A.C.C.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: It’s the last regular-season game before the Mid-American Conference Tournament, which starts Monday at campus sites. Buffalo has clinched at least fourth place and a first-round bye. Kent State owns at least sixth and a first-round home game. To move up, both teams will need others to lose. Possible opponents for them are so similar that Saturday’s results are unlikely to make a big difference in their tournament chances.

About Buffalo

IN THE MAC: Tied for third with Miami, two games behind first-place Central Michigan. One of the hottest teams in the league with three straight double-digit wins, including one over second-place Ohio by 30 points and Miami by 25.

RPI: 37 of 351 teams. Schedule strength: 62. Road record: 9-5.  19th-ranked mid-major team by CollegeInsider.com. Beat Kent State 75-66 in Buffalo on Feb. 9.

LAST GAME: Beat Bowling Green 75-61 at home on Wednesday.

KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)

(I’m switching to conference-game-only statistics because they better reflect how a team is playing now.)

  • Scores 77.6 points a game, second in MAC. Opponents score 67.8 (fifth). Field goal percentage: 42.7 (third). Field goal defense: 39.3 (third).
  • Three-point percentage: 31.7 (ninth). Three-point baskets per game: 7.1 (seventh). Three-point defense: 30.5 (third). Free throw percentage 76.7 (second).
  • Rebounding margin: Plus-4.9 (second). Offensive rebounds per game: 14.9 (first).
  • Turnover margin: Plus-2.6 (second). Steals per game: 9.6 (second). Blocked shots per game: 3.1 (fourth).


  • 5-foot-9 senior guard Cierra Dillard (25.6 points per game, first in MAC and second in nation). Assists per game:  6.4 (first). Steals: 2.8 (second). Field-goal percentage: 36.8 (13th). Three-point percentage: 32.2 (10th). Three-pointers per game: 3.2 (second). Free-throw percentage: 81.0 (fourth). One of top two candidates (with Reyna Frost of Central Michigan) for MAC player of the year.
  • 6-1 junior center Summer Hemphill (14.1 points, 14th). Rebounds: 10.6 (second). Field-goal percentage: 61.0 (first). Free-throw percentage: 69.9 (15th). Blocks: 1.2 (fifth).
  • 6-2 junior center Theresa Onwuka (9.5 points, 5.4 rebounds).

Kent State

IN THE MAC: Sixth at 10-7. Could move to fifth with a win over Buffalo and a Toledo loss at Central Michigan Saturday.

RPI: 85. Schedule strength: 85. Road record: 7-8. Lost at Buffalo 75-66 on Feb. 9.

LAST GAME: Won in overtime 65-55 at Akron on Wednesday.

KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)

  • 65.9 points a game (eighth in MAC). Opponents average 64.0 (second).
  • Field goal percentage: 37.0 (last). Field goal defense: 39.8 (fourth).
  • Three-point percentage: 33.4 (sixth). Three-point baskets per game: 7.5 (sixth). Three-point defense: 32.6 (seventh).
  • Rebounding margin: Plus-0.9 (fifth). Turnover margin: Plus 2.4 (third)
  • Blocked shots: 3.9 (first). Steals: 8.5 (third).


  • 5-7 redshirt junior guard Megan Carter: 16.6 points, ninth in MAC. Field-goal percentage: 40.2 (11th). Three-point percentage: 40.0. Free-throw percentage: 73.4 (11th). Assists: 2.1 (25th).
  • 5-9 senior guard Alexa Golden: 8.6 points. Steals: 3.4 (first). Assists: 3.1 (16th). Blocks: 0.6 (15th). Rebounds: 6.4 (17th).
  • 5-4 freshman point guard Asiah Dingle: 12.9 points (20th). Field-goal percentage: 36.4. Free-throw percentage: 76.8 (seventh) . Steals: 2.1 (seventh). Assists: 2.4 (24th).
  • 6-2 freshman forward Lindsay Thall: 10.7 points. Three-point percentage: 47.4 (first). Three-point baskets per game: 2.2 (10th). Blocked shots: 1.7 (second). Rebounds: 5.1 (25th).
  • 6-0 junior guard Ali Poole: 9.5 points. Rebounds: 4.4.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Two of the best defensive teams in the MAC, but Buffalo has a much more high-powered offense and one of the best players in the country in Dillard. To have a shot at winning, Kent State will have to put four quarters together as well as it did when it beat then first-place Miami 10 days ago.

To follow the game

Action starts at 2 p.m. Saturday at the M.A.C. Center. Chairback tickets are $10, general admission $5. Average Kent attendance is 985, seventh in the MAC and highest in at least seven years.

Audio starts at about 1:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. Jacob Pavilack does play-by-play

Video is through ESPN+, which costs $4.99 a month. The network will carry all MAC Tournament games except the women’s finals and the men’s semifinals and finals. You can watch through ESPN on your television or computer or through the ESPN app. David Wilson and Henry Palattella are the announcers.

Live statistics are available through the Kent State website.


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

Buffalo website, including links.

MAC conference-game statistics, including link to full-season stats.

MAC standings





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