Starkey proud of team’s effort despite season-ending loss in WNIT

Redshirt freshman guard Megan Carter drives to the basket against the University of Michigan at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Thursday, March 16, 2017. Kent State lost in the first round of the WNIT Tournament, 67-60.

Nick Buzzelli

Todd Starkey felt a sense of accomplishment following Thursday’s season-ending loss to the University of Michigan in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

It was a rocky first half — one that saw the Kent State women’s basketball team shoot 18.8 percent from the floor and commit 11 turnovers.

But the Flashes battled back in the second, showing they deserved their at-large bid in the game’s second most prestigious postseason tournament. And for that, the head coach was as proud as he’s ever been following a loss in his 19-years in college basketball.

Despite Kent State’s offensive surge in the second half — outscoring the Wolverines 38-24 during that span — it was unable to contain the outside shooting of the Wolverines’ Katelynn Flaherty, who recorded a game-high 22 points in Michigan’s (23-9) 67-60 win over the Flashes (19-13) at Ann Arbor’s Crisler Arena.

“I think we’ve made a statement about who we are and that we won’t go down without a fight. What this group has been able to accomplish in this year … has been an awesome thing for us to be a part of and to see,” said Starkey, who turned around a program that went 6-24 last season. “I think it speaks to what togetherness means when a team dedicates itself to working together and putting their own concern secondary and the team goals first — what can be accomplished.”

Senior guard Larissa Lurken, playing in her final career game, led Kent State with 19 points and eight rebounds on a 4-20 mark from the field. Meanwhile, senior forward McKenna Stephens chipped in 11 points and eight rebounds in 37 minutes.

While Kent State struggled to score in the first half — something Starkey attributed to turnovers and Michigan’s ability to blow up his team’s ball screen action — its defense picked up the slack in the third quarter and enabled the Flashes to cut the deficit to 12 heading into the fourth.

“It shows that this team is more than just me, by far. Really proud of them (with) the way they stepped up. I didn’t need to score in those moments,” said Lurken, who was held scoreless in the third quarter. “We were doing well the way we were, and I didn’t even think about (scoring), honestly. I think we had some really good looks and some people came in and did a really good job.”

However, despite cutting Michigan’s lead to five, 61-56, with 1:52 remaining, the Wolverines made their final four free throws to secure the win — the team’s fourth all-time against Kent State.

Though Starkey admitted it will be tough to replace Lurken, who set the NCAA’s single-season free throws record with 280, he said that holding their own with a team like Michigan can help reinforce Kent State’s foundation heading into next season — his second as the team’s head coach.

“Just because we played Michigan close this year doesn’t mean we’re going to win any games next year. Next year writes its own story and we’ll have new personnel … We either get a better result, the same result or a worse result,” he said. “But I think what it does is for our returners, it establishes the culture and we can take some confidence from it moving forward.”

Nick Buzzelli is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected].