Stephens’ career-high leads Flashes to victory over Akron

Kent State senior forward Chelsi Watson comes down with the offensive rebound against the Akron Zips at the James A. Rhodes Arena on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. The Flashes won the rivalry game, 72-58.

Henry Palattella

In 2013, then Uniontown Lake forward McKenna Stephens made a name for herself in the Northeast Ohio basketball circuit, as she finished her high school career as the fifth-highest scorer in the Blue Streaks’ history.

Her basketball career may have ended after high school, since she had committed to Michigan State University to play softball.

Fast-forward four years, however, and Stephens was once again dominating on-court in Northeast Ohio, as she scored a career-high 20 points to help lead the Kent State women’s basketball team (14-11, 8-5 Mid-American Conference) to a 72-58 Wagon Wheel victory over the University of Akron (9-14, 2-10 MAC).

“Probably the biggest thing that I’m pleased with was how for 30-35 minutes our offensive efficiency was really good,” said Kent State head coach Todd Starkey after the game. “I thought we did a really good job sharing the basketball and finding the right person based on the way we were being defended.”

The two teams found themselves deadlocked at 15 after the first quarter, but their differing offensive mindsets were on display from the very start.

Akron was 7-19 (36 percent) from the field in the first half, but won the rebound battle handily, as they outrebounded the Flashes 14-7 in the first half.

Kent State, however, made ball movement a priority, as six of its seven first-half buckets came off an assist, while Akron only had three assist.

The Zips took a 22-17 lead with 9:12 left in the second quarter when guard Hannah Plybon made a three-pointer and foul shot, something that sent the James A. Rhodes arena into a frenzy and seemed to swing all the momentum away from an Akron win.

However, Kent State closed out the rest of the quarter with a 23-6 run that gave the team a 40-28 advantage heading into the locker room.

“I thought (on that run), we finally decided to talk early on their screening action,” Starkey said. “(Akron coach Jodi Kest) runs some great stuff … All the screening action she runs you have to do a great job of talking early on those screens and I thought initially we didn’t realize quite the sense of urgency we needed to have.”

The Flashes took that defensive mindset into the second half as well, as they outscored the Zips 19-11 in the quarter to give them a 59-39 lead.

Junior forward Jordan Korinek proved to be an offensive catalyst for the Flashes in that quarter, compiling seven points and two rebounds in the quarter.

 Stephens – whose mother played at Akron – was a steady contributor through the game for the Flashes, scoring five points in each quarter. Her total of 20 points was outmatched only by Plybon, who finished with 24.

“I think, for me personally, I set a lot of screens, and setting screens for (Lurken) gets me pretty open because they’re so worried about her,” Stephens said after the game. “They’re sending two people on her and I’m just wide open.”

The win marks the first time that Kent State has beaten Akron since 2012, which means it’s the first win over the Zips for every member of the Flashes women’s basketball team. 

The Flashes will now have their first bye week of the season before they welcome Ohio University to the M.A.C. Center next Saturday in a battle for first place in the MAC East.

“I think you take everything in stride,” Starkey said of the bye. “Obviously we need (the bye). We’re the third week of the byes so we’re the last round of byes, so we feel like kind of getting to this point was almost survival for us.”

 Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

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