Kent State plays from behind to take down Buffalo, moves to second in the MAC

Mariah Modkins (5) loses a three against the University at Buffalo. Modkins scored seven points in the fourth quarter to lead a game-winning rally. Feb. 24, 2021.

Mariah Modkins left her feet from the free throw line and floated a shot as the shot clock expired. The junior guard’s jumper fell to give Kent State a one-point lead with 49 seconds left in the game.

“I knew we needed something, like I had to get a shot up,” Modkins said. “I just drove and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get to the basket so I just floated it up.”

The Kent State women’s basketball team built on that go-ahead bucket to defeat the University at Buffalo 65-62 at home for its third straight win.

“It feels really good,” Modkins said. “Whenever we play Buffalo we know we are going to get their best and it’s going to be a nice physical battle. This is a great win for us, just building on what we started last week at Northern Illinois and I think it’s something we can really build on going forward.”

Coming into tonight after sweeping Northern Illinois University, Kent State (10-6, 9-4 Mid-American Conference) seems to have fully recovered from its previous three-game losing streak to climb back to second place in the MAC. Buffalo (12-8, 9-6 MAC) falls to sixth in the conference.

Modkins has seemed able to find the basket when Kent needs it most during this three-game streak, and that continued tonight as she had 7 points in the fourth quarter.

“Some really savvy plays by Mariah in the fourth quarter that really kept us in the game,” coach Todd Starkey said.

Modkins finished with 10 points, two offensive rebounds, three assists and a steal with just one turnover.

Efficiency like that was crucial for Kent State to take down one of the best defensive teams in the MAC.

“One of the big keys to the game was that we had 13 assists and only 10 turnovers against a team that really tries to scramble you and pressure you,” Starkey said. “I was pleased with our ball control. We didn’t have a lot of empty possessions.”

The Buffalo defense proved fairly effective in the first half, holding the Flashes’ shooting to just 29 percent from the field.

But Kent State was able to go into halftime down just two points thanks to a 14-point first half from sophomore guard Katie Shumate.

“If [Shumate] doesn’t hit a couple of those threes and some mid-range jump shots we could have been down 10 [or] 12 at halftime,” Starkey said.

Shumate’s scoring slowed down in the second half, but the Newark, Ohio native played solid defense against one of the best offensive players in the country in Buffalo’s Dyaisha Fair.

Fair finished with 23 points, but Shumate held her to 10 in the second half and kept Fair from taking over for the Bulls.

Shumate had 17 points, five rebounds, an assist and two blocks.

After scoring just two points in the first half, sophomore forward Nila Blackford took over as the Flashes’ leading scorer. Blackford led the team in points with 18 and rebounds with nine, while also having an assist and two steals.

Despite Blackford’s efforts, Kent State was out-muscled by Buffalo inside as the Flashes lost the rebound battle 37-31 and were out-scored 46-28 in the paint.

“We were fortunate that we were able to come away with a win based on that stat alone,” Starkey said. “That’s their specialty, that’s what they do. I mean they really are a big, physical team.”

The Flashes were able to overcome the Bulls’ dominance in the paint by spreading the court and scoring from the outside. KSU hit nine threes on 34.6 percent shooting, while Buffalo went just 1-8 from beyond the arc.

Kent State’s leading three-point shooters were Shumate with three with Modkins and junior forward Lindsay Thall following close behind. Thall hit two threes and finished with 10 points, two rebounds, three assists and two blocks before she fouled out in the fourth quarter.

Blackford taking over for Shumate’s production and the Flashes’ ability to adapt around Buffalo’s strengths were emblematic of the flexibility this Kent State team has shown this season.

“The strength of our team is the balance and adaptability that we have in a game like this,” Starkey said. “It was kind of that give and take. This team is able to fill the gaps for each other when we need to.”

Now on a three-game winning streak with just three games left to play, this is a Kent State team that looks completely different from the one that lost three straight just a week ago.

“I think we are just confident and we’re excited that we are playing together,” Modkins said. “The mood on the team is very, very good.”

The Flashes are now in solid position in the razor-thin race to make the MAC tournament, as they go back on the road to face Miami University (3-18, 2-15 MAC). Tipoff is at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27.

Owen MacMillan is a sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].