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‘We’ve been working for this’: Women’s basketball headed to NCAA Tournament

Emma Van Winkle
The Kent State women’s basketball team celebrates winning the MAC Women’s Basketball tournament on Saturday, March 16, 2024.

When the Kent State women’s basketball took the court Saturday, it had a chance to break a 22-year streak of frustration in the Mid-Amercian Conference Tournament championship game.

The Flashes made the most of their opportunity, using a second-half surge inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to defeat Buffalo 78-60 and clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

“It hasn’t really hit us yet. I feel like we’ve been working for this,” junior forward Bridget Dunn said. “This has been our goal for the last four years at least.” 

This is KSU’s (21-10) first MAC championship since 2002.

Kent State women’s basketball team seconds after their win against Buffalo at the MAC Women’s Basketball tournament on Saturday, March 16, 2024. (Emma Van Winkle)

“It’s an honor to represent the Mid-American Conference going to the NCAA tournament,” coach Todd Starkey said. “It’s hard to win championships, and we want to represent the MAC really well.”

The Flashes started the game on a 9-2 scoring run, as the Bulls started the game 0-for-5 from the field. UB ended the quarter converted on four of its next eight shots, and the score after 10 minutes of play was 20-15.

After starting the second quarter, making their first field goal, the Flashes missed their next nine shot attempts as the Bulls went on a 13-5 scoring run.

Buffalo redshirt senior Chellia Watson connected on two shots from behind the arc, including one at the buzzer, as Buffalo took a 34-30 lead into halftime. 

KSU started the second half, converting on three of its first four attempts, starting an 11-3 scoring run to take a 41-37 lead. 

Over the finale seven minutes of the third quarter, redshirt senior Katie Shumate poured in eight points as the Flashes took a 59-47 lead into the final quarter.

Katie Shumate and Bridget Dunn, on offense against Buffalo, were crucial to winning the MAC Women’s Championship on March 16, 2024. (Brittany Lucia)

Buffalo started the fourth quarter, shooting 5-of-8; however, the Flashes limited the Bulls to one made field goal in the final four minutes to clinch a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Kent State shot 47% from the field and 9-of-25 from behind the arc. The Bulls shot 39% from the field and 9-of-21 from behind the arc.

KSU outscored the Bulls in the paint 36-26 and on second-chance points 21-6.

Katie Shumate led the team with 18 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks. She earned the tournament MVP honors. 

“Katie being here five years and not leaving, trusting the process and being loyal to Kent State in the atmosphere that is college basketball right now speaks volumes,” Starkey said. 

Dunn joined Shumate on the All-Tournament Team, finishing with seven points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks. 

Sophomore guard Dionna Gray scored her career-high 14 points in the second half, including three big three-pointers in the third quarter.

Kent State sophomore Dionna Gray gets guarded by Buffalo senior Rana Elhusseini in the MAC Women’s Basketball championship game on Saturday, March 16, 2024. (Emma Van Winkle)

“I knew if we needed to win this game, I needed to do my part as well,” Gray said. “I looked at Katie and knew I needed to do something about it. 

“Them trusting me and me being able to step up means a lot,” she said.

Gray also shared the team lead with four assists and two steals.

Junior forward Jenna Batsch (14 points) and graduate student center Mikala Morris (11 points) also scored in double digits. 

Freshman forward Janae Tyler had eight points and two blocks, and graduate student guard Abby Ogle had five points and two steals. 

“For a freshman in the MAC Tournament and in an NBA arena to go 17 for 27 from the floor, it might be some kind of record,” Starkey said. “I’m really proud of what she was able to do.”

The Flashes will find out their opponent on NCAA Selection Sunday. The bracket will be announced on ESPN’s Selection Special, which begins at 8 p.m.

“We love the underdog role. I want them to enjoy this,” Starkey said. “They need to really spend the next two to three days really enjoying this MAC championship because it’s hard.

The Kent State women’s basketball team rejoices in their championship win the MAC Women’s Basketball tournament on Saturday, March 16, 2024. (Emma Van Winkle)

“Then we’ll start preparing and bring a game plan depending on who we play and where we play. We’re just excited for the opportunity.” 

Emily Lowen is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Emma Van Winkle, Photographer
Emma s a sophomore psychology major with a concentration in counseling careers and a minor in early intervention. She enjoys taking pictures, and her niche is sports – but she recently found a love for nature photography when she worked at a summer camp. Contact her at [email protected]

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