Women’s basketball beats second Power Five team in three days; places third in Gulf Coast Showcase

Sophomore+forward+Lindsey+Thall+%2844%29+dribbles+the+ball+down+the+court+during+the+womens+basketball+game+on+Jan.+29%2C+2020.+Kent+State+won+against+Ball+State+University+69-68.

Sophomore forward Lindsey Thall (44) dribbles the ball down the court during the women’s basketball game on Jan. 29, 2020. Kent State won against Ball State University 69-68.

Jimmy Oswald Sports Editor

The Kent State women’s basketball team had not beaten a Power Five team since November of 2010 prior to this weekend. 

By Sunday night the Flashes had two victories in one weekend.

After shocking the women’s college basketball world with an upset over No. 19 UCLA Friday, KSU defeated Penn State 81-74 Sunday in the third-place game of the Gulf Coast Showcase. 

“We knew it was a tough tournament field,” coach Todd Starkey said. “If you told me we were going to go 2-1 down here and finish in third place, I would probably have questioned your judgment. But this team continues to prove what they’re capable of doing. Hopefully, we come away with solid confidence of what we’re capable of doing when we play together and stay focused.” 

The Flashes are 5-1, with their lone loss coming Saturday against the University of Massachusetts. The Nittany Lions fall to 4-3. 

“I was really proud of the way we bounced back after not playing as well as we would have liked against UMass,” Starkey said. “Really, really pleased with our effort, focus and connectedness tonight against a really good Penn State team.” 

It’s the best start to a season for KSU since 2010, when it started 6-0 en route to a 20-10 record and an appearance in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. 

Kent State’s defense kept Penn State in check in the first quarter, holding the Nittany Lions to a field goal percentage of 20 and forcing them to go 0-for-6 on three-pointers. 

While KSU only shot a 29.4 field goal percentage in the first quarter, they went into the second quarter with an 18-8 lead, helped by a 9-2 run. 

Penn State picked up its offense in the second quarter, going 8-of-17 on field goals and tying the game up at 28. The Flashes made two buckets and went into halftime with a slim 32-30 lead. 

Starkey said the team had a great start to the game.

“We came out and did a good job defensively, holding them to eight points, in the first quarter,” he said. “[Penn State] did a really good job of getting downhill on us in transition in the second and third quarter. So we had to make some adjustments to our transition defense. But once we did that, we started to slow them down a little bit.” 

The third quarter was tight, featuring four lead changes, but KSU managed to stay ahead for most of the period, and a 6-0 run, including a three-pointer from senior guard Hannah Young, helped it take a four point lead into the final quarter. 

The Flashes shot 64.3 from the field in the fourth quarter, its highest percentage in any quarter by over 26 percent. 

Kent State started the period with a 10-2 run, highlighted by two three pointers, to take a 12-point lead about halfway through the fourth quarter.

“We were just trying to run certain actions that we felt like we could get where we had some advantages based on our lineups,” Starkey said. “Just trying to get the ball to certain spots.”

 The Nittany Lions trimmed the lead to 74-70 after sinking back-to-back three pointers, but sophomore guard Casey Santoro hit a layup, and KSU scored on five free throws to win the game. 

“Casey had two really difficult finishes around the basket, kind of among the trees there,” Starkey said. “She’s [5 feet 4 inches], and she had some really good finishes around the basket during the fourth quarter. They were big, big shots for us.”

The Flashes finished with a 40.6 field goal percentage, and they went 7-of-22 on three-pointers. 

KSU absolutely dominated the boards, doubling the Nittany Lions’ output on the glass 46-23, including a 17-3 advantage in offensive rebounds. 

Starkey called it “unbelievable.”

“It was definitely a team effort,” he said. “We talk about having to rebound as a team or as a gang, get a gang rebound. Everybody’s got to be a part of the effort for that. And they just did a phenomenal job of keeping them, it’s a Big Ten team. I looked at the final stats, and I was a bit blown away by that.” 

Kent State has outrebounded its opponents 242-180 this season, and it has not been beaten on the boards in any game. 

Junior forward Nila Blackford led the team with 14 rebounds and posted her first double-double of the season with 13 points. 

Starkey said he was proud of how Blackford bounced back after she struggled a bit Saturday.

“She was much more focused,” Starkey said. “14 rebounds against a Big Ten team, she’s one of the best rebounders in the conference. She did a really good job battling the glass.” 

Blackford was one of two KSU players to have a double-double Sunday, with senior forward Lindsey Thall being the other.

Thall scored 16 points and had a season-high 10 rebounds. She and Blackford had more combined rebounds (24) than the entire Penn State team (23).

It was quite the weekend for Thall, who was awarded All-Tournament Team honors, as she scored 58 points and snagged 26 rebounds. She led the Flashes in scoring the first two days of the tournament. 

“She was named to the All-Tournament team,” Starkey said. “Which is a great thing with this tournament field. It’s unbelievable. Phenomenal weekend for her. She was a really big reason we had success.” 

Thall also became the 23rd KSU player to score 1,000 career points on a third quarter free throw Sunday. 

Young nearly became the third Flash to record a double-double, falling just short with eight rebounds and nine points. 

Five Kent State players scored in the double digits after only one did it in Saturday’s loss. 

Junior guard Katie Shumate led the team in scoring with 17 points. She had five rebounds and three assists. 

Santoro scored 15 points, her fourth time in six games scoring 14 or more points, and had two rebounds and three assists. 

KSU had nine turnovers in the first half, but only three in the second.

Starkey said the team has “done a really good job of taking care of the basketball this whole season.”

“That was something we really talked about in the offseason,” he said. “We had a few too many live-ball turnovers in the first half that led to some easy points for [Penn State]. That was definitely a point of emphasis for us in the locker room at halftime. I’m really proud of them for three turnovers in the second half, especially with the pressure that we were facing. And they were trying to pressure us a lot, trying to speed us up and we did a good job of taking care of the basketball.”  

The Flashes will next visit St. Bonaventure (5-1) on Friday at 7 p.m.

Jimmy Oswald is a sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]