Sluggish start sends Flashes limping into postseason

Kent State freshman point guard Erin Thames calls a play during the Flashes’ 58-35 loss to Miami (OH) at Millett Hall in Oxford, Ohio, on March 3, 2018.

Ian Kreider

Kent State (12-18, 5-13 Mid-American Conference) started the game slowly Saturday, falling quickly behind, 14-2, against Miami (OH) (20-9, 12-6 MAC) with 6:37 left in the first quarter.

Flashes coach Todd Starkey had seen enough. He called a timeout and subbed out every starter.  

“Our starters came in, and they didn’t play hard from the start, and I was trying to find a combination of five players who wanted to be here and play hard,” Starkey said.

The second unit consisted of a guard combo of freshman Erin Thames and sophomore Ali Poole, junior Tyra James, senior forward Zenobia Bess and freshman Monique Smith. That group came in and went on an 8-4 run to cut the lead to 16-10.

The Flashes’ first unit responded in the second quarter by scoring only five points on 1-for-7 shooting, while also turning the ball over six times. The Redhawks extended their lead to 30-17 at halftime.

The third quarter was more of the same for Kent State, as the Flashes had five turnovers on 4-for-15 shooting, allowing Miami (OH) to shoot 5-for-10 from the field. The Flashes were also on the losing end of a lot of 50/50 balls, getting outrebounded, 25-19, through three quarters.

The game finished in a 58-35 Miami (OH) victory. The 35 points was the lowest total for the Flashes in a game this season.

“This team is either one of two things: They’re either just mentally spent — they don’t have enough mental toughness left to really compete at the college level — or we’re not good enough,” Starkey said. “Either way, that has to get fixed either by Monday or it has to get fixed before next season.”

The game saw two of the MAC’s three highest scoring players score under 10 points.

Kent State senior forward Jordan Korinek scored only eight points, her second-lowest total of the season. She shot just 3-for-7 from the field and attempted only three foul shots (2-for-3).

Miami’s Lauren Dickerson scored only six points shooting 1-for-4 from the floor, playing only 18 minutes due to earlier foul trouble.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t have a player that came here ready to play today,” Starkey said.

This is the first game all season the Flashes didn’t have a player in double-digits. The team combined to shoot 14-for-51 from the field and 2-for-15 from the behind the arc. It also only attempted eight foul shots (5-for-8).

The one positive takeaway for Kent State was getting new players acclimated to playing in a conference matchup. Walk-on freshman guard Margaux Eibel saw the court for 11 minutes, a season and career-high.

“She played the hardest out of any of our players today,” Starkey said of Eibel. “She deserves some credit because she has been working every day in practice, and we’ve got some other players who haven’t been working as hard as her, so I played her a lot because she deserved to play based on her effort and intensity.”

Kent State may look to a full squad substitution next game as well.

“If they (the starters) aren’t playing hard, we’ll do it again Monday,” Starkey said.

The game was the regular season finale for both teams, as Kent State moves on to play its first-round game in next week’s MAC tournament.

The No. 10 seed Flashes will need a spark at 7 p.m. Monday when they travel to take on No. 7 seed Toledo (17-13, 8-10 MAC) at Savage Arena in the first round of the MAC tournament.

The Flashes won the teams’ only previous meeting this season, 62-55, on Jan. 24 thanks to 30 points and 11 rebounds from Korinek.

Ian Kreider is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].