Barber-Smith’s 20 rebounds lead Kent State team to first-round victory

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Kent State former president Beverly Warren hugs Merissa Barber-Smith after Kent State’s 86-62 over the Falcons on March 11 in the first round of the MAC Tournament. 

Gina Butkovich

Senior center Merissa Barber-Smith couldn’t leave the court until she grabbed her last rebound.

“I kept looking up, and thought I can do better,” Barber-Smith said. “I said to coach ‘keep me in as long as possible, I will give you rebounds.’ That’s my specialty.”

With less than a minute remaining, junior guard Jess Wallis’ 3-point shot fell just short of the net and Barber-Smith snatched her 20th rebound of the game.

“She been playing the best basketball of her four years right here at the end,” coach Todd Starkey said. “20 rebounds is ridiculous. I’m really proud. She has really shown up and given her best right here at the end where it matters most.”

Barber-Smith was subbed out immediately following her rebound, and the crowd joined her teammates in standing up to cheer as she left the MAC court for the final time.

“She’s a beast,” freshman guard Asiah Dingle declared after the game.

Forty seconds later, the Kent State Women’s basketball officially won their first-round MAC Tournament game, beating Bowling Green 86-62. The whole team crowded around Barber-Smith and senior guard Alexa Golden at center court, yelling in celebration; The Flashes had punched their ticket to Cleveland.

Barber-Smith had 10 points on the night, giving her the first double-double of her career. Golden had nine points on a night where she hit the 100th three-pointer of her career on the first shot of the game.

“The great thing to see is the rest of our players really rallying around (Golden) and (Barber-Smith),” Stakey said. “They really want to send them out on as high a note as possible. It’s a great thing for a coach to see a team care so much about their seniors that they are willing to give everything they have for them.”

With 86 points, this was the Flashes third-highest-scoring game of the season.The only quarter where they scored less than 20 points was in the fourth, in which they scored 19.

In the first quarter, they were 10-of-17 on field goals and 3-of-5 on 3-pointers, scoring 25 points in total.

“We lost to (Bowling Green) before when we didn’t come to play,” Dingle said. “We needed to come to play because we worked hard to get to this point, to get home court advantage, and we’re not going to blow it.”

Dingle had 25 points and four steals.

“I think she’s been doing a good job of picking her spots and not driving with blinders on,” Starkey said. “We are really trying to get her in spots where she can drive early in transition, when the defense isn’t set, or after we have executed something on the offensive side and she’s catching the ball on the second touch.”

Bowling Green was 22-for-60 from the field and 7-for-21 from 3. Freshman forward Lindsey Thall and Barber-Smith each finsihed with three blocks

“We felt that Bowling Green was one of the most improved teams in the conference this season,” Starkey said. “We felt that they were a really, really dangerous 12 seat. We did not take them lightly at all.”

Kent State is going to the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Wednesday to face No. 4 seed Buffalo in the quarter-final round. The Flashes beat Buffalo 62-53 on Saturday.

“Oh, we’re taking (Buffalo) down two times,” Dingle said. “We’re ready.”

Gina Butkovich is a sports reporter. Contact her at [email protected]