Kent State rides hot start to complete two-day sweep of NIU

The Kent State women’s basketball team played its best quarter of basketball all season right out of the gates against Northern Illinois University Sunday, taking a 33-17 lead after just 10 minutes.

The Flashes would control the rest of the game handily to defeat NIU 73-58, completing a sweep of the Huskies in back to back games following a 69-65 win yesterday.

Kent State (9-6, 8-4 Mid-American Conference) came into the weekend on a three-game losing streak, while NIU (11-8, 9-5 MAC) came in ranked second in the MAC and riding a five-game win streak. 

“I think [my players] were embarrassed by the way they played recently,” coach Todd Starkey said. “They wanted to prove that they were better than that. And they took some personal accountability for what was going on, and it has to start there.”

Tough defense and accurate shooting have seen the Flashes reverse their fortunes and move towards securing a spot in the MAC tournament in Cleveland.

In the first quarter it seemed as though Kent State couldn’t miss, as the Flashes shot 85.7 percent from the field and went 9-10 from beyond the three-point arc. Those threes were built off ball movement and finding open looks, as the Flashes had nine assists in the quarter and 17 in the game.

“We did a really good job of getting the ball into the paint and collapsing the defense,” Starkey said. “Most of the threes we took were really good ones, and obviously they just happened to go in as well. I didn’t think we were taking bad shots or forcing things.”

Junior guard Mariah Modkins had a pair of fourth quarter threes against NIU on Saturday, and she kept that momentum going as today’s game started, hitting two early threes to kickstart Kent’s initial run.

Modkins would not score again, finishing with six points, but she was at the helm of the offense all day and had three assists and a steal.

“Mariah Modkins was phenomenal [in] back to back games,” Starkey said. “She just worked every second she was out there, she was relentless defensively. And then from the fourth quarter yesterday to the first quarter today she hit four straight threes, which was a huge emotional shot in the arm.”

After Modkins kicked off the offense, sophomore guard Clare Kelly led Kent State with 19 points while also having four rebounds, two assists and two steals with only one turnover.

Kelly shot 63.6 percent from the field and 62.5 percent from three-point range.

Junior forward Lindsay Thall was Kent’s second leading scorer as she scored 14 points along with five rebounds and team highs in both assists with five and blocks with two.

KSU did fall back to earth in the second quarter, shooting just over 33 percent, but the Flashes’ defense and game control ensured NIU would never come close to threatening the lead they had built.

“Best defense we’ve played all year,” Starkey said. 

After the shooting cooled down, Kent State leaned on its rebounding to control possessions and keep the ball away from the Huskies.

KSU outrebounded NIU by a dominant margin of 42-23, including an edge of 14-4 in offensive rebounds.

As she has all season, sophomore forward Nila Blackford led the way on the boards, grabbing 10 rebounds to go with 13 points for her tenth double-double of the season.

Also grabbing their share of rebounds were junior guard Hannah Young, who had eight, and freshman center Lexi Jackson, who had six.

Kent State will return from a four game road trip on Wednesday, Feb. 24 as the Flashes host the University at Buffalo in the M.A.C. Center. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.

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