Poole’s career-high leads Flashes to statement win against NIU

Freshman guard Hannah Young dribbles during the first half of Kent State’s matchup against NIU on Wednesday, Jan 9, 2018. Kent State won, 87-78. 

Henry Palattella

After Kent State’s 92-38 drubbing of Clarion on Dec. 31, Kent State women’s basketball coach Todd Starkey praised the state of the Mid-American Conference, calling his first three years in the conference “probably the three best years in conference history as far as RPI.” 

It’s clear by looking up and down the conference standings that Starkey’s praise is deserved.

Despite its loss to Central Michigan Wednesday, Ohio sits at 12-1, while the Chippewas are 11-3 and boast the highest RPI in the conference. Those two, mixed in with Miami (OH) (10-3) and Akron (10-3), are all true powerhouses sitting at or near the top of the conference standings.

It’s time to add Kent State to that list of powerhouses.

For the first time in the Starkey era, the Flashes beat Northern Illinois, 87-78, behind a career night from junior guard Ali Poole.

“It’s a great win,” Starkey said of the victory. “It’s great to get that monkey off our back. They’ve been a tough nut for us to crack over the years. The thing with them is they keep coming at you, they’re relentless.”

Poole finished the night with a career-high 28 points on 11-for-20 shooting to lead the Flashes’ (9-4, 2-0 MAC) offense. Poole made her presence known in every facet of the game, finishing with seven rebounds, three blocks and a steal.

“We’ve been getting a lot of extra shots up during Christmas break which helped with rhythm,” Poole said. “Then Asiah and the other guards have been giving really good kickout passes. It’s a lot easier to hit a three when no one’s guarding you.”

Poole jump-started the Flashes’ offense with seven first-quarter points and continued to dominate from there. She ended the second half with three straight three-pointers, the final of which was a heave from near court that banked in as the horn sounded, sending the Flashes to the locker room with a 43-41 lead.

Poole was joined in double figures by freshman Asiah Dingle and Lindsey Thall, who finished with 17 points each. Thall’s length down low and shooting touch stretched out the Huskies’ defense, while Dingle shook off some hard fouls and hits to lead the Flashes’ offense during its dominant second half.

“Just play,” senior guard Alexa Golden said of her advice to the freshman. “Just be who you are and do what you do. Just play.” 

Kent State is now 2-0 in the MAC, thanks in part to two dominant fourth quarters. On Saturday, the Flashes held Eastern Michigan to 15 points in the fourth quarter to squeak out a 71-64 win. On Wednesday, the Flashes scored 28 points in the final frame compared to NIU’s 16.

“We’ve grown up over these last two games,” Starkey said. “The way we’ve played in the fourth quarter over these last two games has really shown a lot of maturity. That’s a good sign.”

The Flashes’ depth was evident throughout the duration of Wednesday’s game. Merissa Barber-Smith (five rebounds, four points) came up with some big steals and defensive stops late, while Dingle and Mariah Modkins (three rebounds, one points, one assist) helped the Flashes control the backcourt.

“In some way we got contributions from just about everybody,” Starkey said. “Obviously, Merissa was the biggest, but we had some kids that played some big-time minutes.”

The Flashes are now entering what could arguably be the toughest stretch of the season. They’ll travel to play 9-4 Toledo on Saturday, which is followed by back-to-back matchups against Ohio and Central Michigan. Wednesday’s win over NIU sent a message to the rest of the MAC. A winning record over their next three games would send a statement.

Last year, the Flashes won their conference opener before tailing off to a 13-19 record. It’s already clear this season that the Flashes don’t want that to happen again.

“I wouldn’t say that we took teams lightly last year, but coming off the great year we had before, we kind of did take teams lightly,” Golden said of last year. “Everybody’s good in the MAC. That, combined with the experience we had last year, has let the freshmen know that every game is winnable or losable no matter who you’re playing.”

The Flashes will be back in action Saturday when they take on Toledo. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.

Henry Palattella is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]