Women’s basketball ends regular season with Wagon Wheel win

Nila Blackford (4) puts up a layup after getting past the Akron defense. her 21 points lifted the Flashes over the Zips. March 6, 2021.

Kent State’s women’s basketball team (11-8, 10-6 MAC) finished its regular season with a 64-58 home win over rival University of Akron (7-14, 4-14 MAC) Saturday afternoon.

The Flashes started the game with an 18-7 run in the first quarter and did not allow a Zips field goal until less than a minute remained in the quarter.

Akron came back to outscore Kent 18-11 in the second quarter cutting the Flashes’ lead to four at halftime.

“We got off to a quick start and I wouldn’t necessarily say we took our foot off the gas, we just struggled to finish in the second quarter and allowed them to get back in the game,” coach Todd Starkey said. “Then it was a back and forth battle the rest of the way like you would expect in a rivalry game.”

Junior guard Hannah Young grabbed a game and career-high 15 rebounds.

“I was just trying to play hard and play within the offense and defense and when I saw the ball I just went to go grab it,” Young said. “It’s mostly just effort, but it’s a lot of watching the ball and anticipating where it’s going to bounce off or if it’s going to bounce off the rim.”

The Flashes outrebounded the Zips 48-24 overall and 22-4 on offensive boards.

“I think defensively we’ve found our niche,” Starkey said. “Over the last couple of weeks our defense has certainly gotten better.”

Kent had 21 second chance points compared to only eight for Akron and scored 36 points in the paint compared to 28 for the Zips.

The Flashes were led by sophomore forward Nila Blackford with 21 points, sophomore guard Katie Shumate with 15 points and freshman guard Casey Santoro with 10 points.

Blackford went 5 of 6 from the free throw line and 8 of 10 from the field.

“She’s a good free throw shooter, she’s just been in her head a little bit,” Starkey said. “I think it was good for her to see the ball go through the basket, especially from the free throw line.”

Shumate returned to the lineup in a big way after missing Kent State’s game on Wednesday,  scoring 11 of her 15 points in the first half.

“[Shumate is] a great asset to this program and a great teammate,” Young said. “It was definitely great to have her back and she played hard and aggressive right from the jump. She was attacking at the rim and that helped us get that big lead in the beginning and she continued to do that throughout the game.”

The Zips were led by freshman guard Layne Ferrell with 17 points and sophomore guard Molly Neitzel with 10 points and five rebounds.

Kent held Akron star senior forward Jordyn Dawson scoreless until the fourth quarter. Dawson averages 16.3 points per game, but the Flashes held her to just eight points.

“I thought we did a really good job of staying underneath [Dawson],” Starkey said. “She’s really good when she can get to your body and get your hips. She does a really good job of neutralizing you and getting to the basket. I thought Katie did a phenomenal job on her and really defended her well.”

The Flashes were without starting sophomore guard Clare Kelly for the second straight game as she continues to deal with a foot injury. Freshman center Lexi Jackson was unavailable because of a high ankle sprain injury.

“Hopefully we can get Clare and Lexi back for the tournament because that really helps our rotation depth,” Starkey said.

Overall, Kent shot 32.3 percent from the field compared to Akron’s 42 percent and the Zips shot 45.5 percent from three point range compared to the Flashes’ 14.3 percent.

The Flashes are the No. 5 seed in the MAC Tournament and will take on No. 4 seed University at Buffalo (14-8, 11-6 MAC) on Wednesday, March 10 at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio.

Kent won its meeting against the Bulls this season by a score of 65-62 on Feb. 24 in Kent. This will be the fourth time in four years that the two teams have met in the conference tournament. In last year’s tournament, the Flashes took home the win by a score of 72-66 and would have gone on to play in the semi-finals if the rest of the tournament had been played.

Kathryn is a sports reporter. Contact her at [email protected].