Kent State women’s basketball splits final two games in Play4Kay Showcase

Kent State junior guard Alexa Golden shoots a layup during the game against Florida Gulf Coast in Akron, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. [FILE]

Scott Lendak

After the Kent State women’s basketball team fell to No. 14 Stanford in its first game of this weekend’s Play4Kay Showcase in Las Vegas, they knew it was vital to win at least one of the next two games. 

“Going into the tournament, we knew we were playing against really good teams,” coach Todd Starkey said at the end of the tournament. “The goal was to make sure we found a way to get at least one win out of it.”

Gonzaga (Friday, Nov. 24)

In the Flashes’ second game of the tournament, they were tasked with trying to defeat Gonzaga, the No. 7 team in the Mid-Major Top 25 Poll.

The Flashes didn’t help themselves out early, as they turned the ball over eight times in the first quarter, leading to 18 points scored by Gonzaga.

“Our margin for error this season is really small,” Starkey said. “We can’t make the kind of mistakes that we’re making and expect to be in games against Stanford and Gonzaga, which are two of the best teams on the West Coast. We’ve got to put 40 minutes together if we’re going to compete in these kind of games.”

The Flashes fell behind, 32-15, in the first quarter and couldn’t come back. They led for just 19 seconds in the game.

In Kent State’s three losses, opponents have scored an average of 23 points off turnovers, including 36 against Gonzaga.

Down by 10 in the third quarter, the Flashes attempted a comeback, but at the end of the third quarter sophomore guard Ali Poole shot a three-pointer that bounced away off the rim with 29 seconds left in the quarter. 

“When you’re trying to battle back, you need a little bit of luck,” Starkey said. “I think it’s a different ball game if that shot goes down.”

Graduate student forward McKenna Stephens led the Flashes with 18 points and five rebounds. Senior forward Jordan Korinek had 14 points.

“I’m proud of the fact we fought,” Starkey said. “We didn’t give in.”

The Bulldogs defeated the Flashes, 77-57.

Memphis (Saturday, Nov. 25) 

Defense was the story for the Flashes in a 70-55 game against Memphis to clinch its first win in the Play4Kay Showcase.

The Flashes were tied 50-50 going into the fourth quarter. Led by a defensive frontcourt consisting of junior center Merissa Barber-Smith and Korinek, the Flashes held the Tigers to just two of 15 shooting in the final quarter.

“We went with more size with Merissa (Barber-Smith) and Jordan (Korinek) in together,” Starkey said. “I thought they did a great job of talking on ball screen defense, and then we limited them to one shot. Overall, our defensive effort as a team was really, really good.”

Kent State outscored Memphis, 20-5, in the fourth quarter. The Tigers had an 11-point lead in the third quarter before the Flashes closed out the game on a 40-14 run.

“I thought we had a great second half defensively,” Starkey said. “Even when we got down by 11 in the third quarter, we just kept chipping away. We got some great efforts off the bench with Merissa and Kasey (Toles). Merissa did a great job of contesting a lot of shots and keeping them off the offensive glass.”

The Flashes shot 21 free throws in the second half after shooting just three in the first half. 

Korinek led the Flashes in scoring with 25 points. Senior guard Naddiyah Cross finished with a double-double, tallying 13 points and 10 rebounds. She also added five assists.

“This was a great team effort and a great win over a good Memphis program,” Starkey said. “The biggest thing we wanted from the team today was to be relentless from start to finish, to not have any mental or physical letdowns. We told the team that the mentally and physically toughest from start to finish that is going to win the ball game, and I think we proved that.”

Scott Lendak is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].