Fourth-quarter woes doom Flashes in MAC quarterfinal


Kent State senior guard Larissa Lurken drives on Toledo freshman guard Mariella Santucci during the quarter-finals of the MAC Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Nate Manley / The Kent Stater

Henry Palattella

After Kent State’s 67-63 Mid-American Conference Tournament loss to Toledo, Kent State Coach Todd Starkey took a moment to pause before starting his post-game press conference. Starkey  who was named MAC Coach of the Year Tuesday  then talked about how the loss hurt not only because it ended their run at the MAC championship, but because the Flashes were favored to win.

The affair was a back and forth one that featured eight lead changes, 56 points in the paint, and 32 bench points. The No. 3 Flashes (19-12, 13-5 MAC) came up just short of No. 6 Toledo (23-8, 12-6 MAC) on Tuesday night.

“I give Toledo a lot of credit,” Starkey said after the game. “I’ve known (Toledo coach) Tricia Cullop a long time and she does a fantastic job coaching her team. They really amped up the pressure on us late in the game.”

The first quarter of the game served as a microcosm of the season for the Flashes as they only managed to make six field goals in the first quarter, but four of them were three-pointers, which allowed the Flashes to stay in the game and hold the Rockets to a 22-16 lead. Senior Larissa Lurken led the Flashes with five points at that point, while Jay-Ann Bravo-Harriott led the Rockets with nine points. Bravo-Harriott  who scored her 1,000th career point in the victory  didn’t play in the first matchup between the two teams, which was a win for the Flashes.

Lurken etched her name into another facet of Kent State lore in the victory, as she scored her 733rd point on the season, a new school record.

The Rockets started the second quarter on a 4-0 run before Starkey called a timeout that seemed to do the Flashes some good as they came out on a 16-2 run that ended when Lurken made two free throws to give the Flashes a slim 32-30 lead. The Rockets fought through the Kent State run and went into the halftime locker room with a 39-35 lead.

The third quarter, however, belonged to Kent State as they outscored Toledo 21-11 in the quarter to take a 56-50 lead. Lurken once again left her mark on the quarter, scoring five points, while junior Jordan Korinek added five herself.

The Flashes pushed their lead up to seven in the fourth quarter, but Toledo began to slowly chip away at the lead, and soon found themselves down only by one with six minutes left after a Mikaela Boyd layup. The Rockets took the lead back two minutes later when Mariella Santucci knocked down a three-pointer. Lurken responded with a layup, but two Santucci free throws increased the Rockets’ lead back up to two. Kent State had a chance to hold Toledo scoreless on their next possession, but Janice Monakana nailed a three right as the shot clock expired that not only increased the Rockets’ lead to 66-61, but also sucked all the momentum away from the Flashes.

“If I’m being honest, I was lucky that I heard … people counting down the shot clock,” Monakana said of the shot.

The Flashes cut the lead to 66-63 with one minute left and had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but a Megan Carter three went long.

Carter  who played point guard most of the second half over starting guard Naddiyah Cross  recorded a career-high 15 points in the loss.

One of the reasons for the Flashes’ offensive problems in the fourth quarter was that they didn’t get a chance to attempt a single free throw, something that had been their bread and butter all year long.

“I think we were expecting contact and expecting calls from the refs that we weren’t getting,” Lurken said of the free throw drought. “We just weren’t going up strong enough.”

Despite the loss, Starkey still feels as if his team has deserved a chance to play in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT).

“Yeah, we’re very hopeful that we’re going to get a WNIT bid,” he said. “These girls deserve it.  They’ve earned that opportunity to represent this conference and to represent Kent State in post‑season play.”

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