Flashes ride a career-high from Kelly to beat Toledo in overtime

Nila Blackford (4) comes down after shooting over two Toledo defenders. Blackford led Kent State with 13 rebounds and is averaging a double-double this season. Feb. 8, 2020.

In a game in which the Kent State women’s basketball team trailed by as much as 13 and didn’t lead until the fourth quarter, the Flashes were able to play from behind and defeat the University of Toledo (8-8, 4-8 MAC) 93-87 in overtime today.

Though Kent State did not take the lead until just under two minutes into the fourth quarter, it was the Rockets trying to fight back into the game at the end of regulation at the M.A.C. Center.

Though Toledo (8-8, 4-8 MAC) forced overtime with a three as time expired, the Flashes (7-3, 6-1 Mid-American Conference) proved too much in extra minutes as they held on to remain the number one seed in the MAC.

“I thought we did a good job of getting back into the flow of the game and not dwelling on what happened at the end of regulation,” coach Todd Starkey said. 

The comeback was led by sophomore guard Clare Kelly, who scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed six rebounds. Kelly came into the day averaging only 6.4 points per game.

“I can’t really say I’m surprised,” coach Todd Starkey said of Kelly’s performance. “She is playing with more confidence this year and kind of getting her feet under her as a sophomore.”

Kelly shot 42.9 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point range, but really shined at the free throw line. She went a perfect 12-12 as she was able to drive to the basket and force Toledo to foul her.

“A lot of teams play her as a three point shooter, but she is turning into more and more of a complete player,” Starkey said.

Kelly was less impressed by her own play, saying, “I don’t pay too much attention to my stats.”

Another crucial piece of the comeback was sophomore guard Katie Shumate, who came alive in the third quarter to help turn up the Flashes’ offense.

Shumate did not score until 6:38 in the third quarter, but still managed to finish the game with 17 points on 45.5 percent shooting from the field. She added two rebounds and a block.

“We really needed [Shumate’s] spark,” Starkey said. “Without her coming in with her aggressive mentality both offensively and defensively we certainly wouldn’t have won this game.”

Kent State became well acquainted with the free-throw line, as Toledo committed 28 personal fouls and the Flashes shot 30 of 40 from the stripe. Toledo shot half as many free throws, going 12 of 18.

Kent State also outpaced Toledo when it came to competing on the glass, as the Flashes outrebounded the Rockets by a margin of 48-32. 15 of those rebounds were on the offensive end, which Kent turned into 12 second-chance points.

Sophomore forward Nila Blackford led the rebounding effort with 13 and scored 15 points to mark her sixth double-double of the season. The Louisville native is averaging a double-double at 10.3 rebounds per game and 15.4 points per game.

“Nila is around her average, but [rebounding] is a collective thing,” Starkey said. “Nila had four offensive rebounds, but we had 15. So there were 11 other offensive rebounds that were really hustle plays where we were making some things happen.”

Junior forward Lindsey Thall had six rebounds (tying Kelly for second most on the team), three of which were offensive. Thall also had 14 points, two assists and a team-high three blocks.

Junior guard Mariah Modkins and freshman guard Casey Santoro scored five and seven points respectively, but found other ways to help put points on the board. 

Santoro had three rebounds and a team-high five assists, while Modkins had three rebounds, four assists and a team-high four steals.

Kent State did not play for nearly a month between Jan. 9 and Feb. 3 due to a COVID-19 related pause and lost to Ohio University upon its return. But since then the Flashes have won two straight to regain some of the momentum of their 4-0 start to MAC play.

“It feels good to be back,” Kelly said. “Energy is crucial. In [tonight’s] game the energy goes from the people on the floor all the way to the bench.”

Kent State will face its biggest test since returning to play this month, as the Flashes are set to take on Bowling Green State University (14-4, 10-3 MAC), the number two team in the MAC standings.

“We have got a potential buzzsaw coming in on Wednesday,” Starkey said. “Bowling Green is a well-oiled machine right now. They’ve been playing consistently and they are playing with a ton of confidence, so we have got our hands full.”

Kent State takes on BGSU at the M.A.C. Center on just one day of rest Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 6 p.m.

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