Women’s basketball rides fourth quarter success to knock off NIU

As Northern Illinois University looked to inbound the ball, Kent State sophomore guard Katie Shumate bounced up and down, waving her arms and legs to obscure the inbounder’s vision.

Shumate’s hustle paid off as NIU threw the ball out of bounds and Kent State got the ball back with a two-point lead and nine seconds left.

The Kent State women’s basketball team would go on to defeat NIU 69-65 in DeKalb, Illinois, snapping NIU’s five-game win streak and halting a three-game losing skid for KSU.

The effort by Shumate on that inbound displayed the intensity a frustrated Kent State put forward in a game the Flashes needed to win to stay in the running to make the Mid-American Conference tournament.

“I was curious to see what we had in the tank after the rough stretch we’ve had,” coach Todd Starkey said. “We really focused on talking about mental toughness and pushing through, and not giving in, and I thought [the team] responded really well to that.”

Kent State had shot poorly in the fourth quarter during its three-game losing streak, but that trend came to an abrupt end today as the Flashes shot 64.3 percent and went 4-5 from three-point range in the final quarter.

Starkey said there were a lot of factors contributing to that great fourth quarter, but the team’s struggles there in previous games was a source of motivation.

“I think a little bit of it was [the team] was just fed up from the last few games of not finishing plays and shooting the ball well,” he said.

That late-game success was best exemplified by junior guard Mariah Modkins, who scored all eight of her points in the last 10 minutes.

Modkins went into the final quarter with just a pair of missed three-pointers to speak of, but hit both her three-point attempts in the fourth as well as two late free throws to give Kent State a four-point lead. She finished with eight points, a team-high six assists, a block and two steals.

The hustle of a team desperate for a win was evident on the defensive side of the ball as Kent State harried NIU all day, forcing 21 turnovers by the Huskies, allowing a shooting percentage of just 26.7 percent in the fourth quarter and totaling nine blocks.

Kent State was able to capitalize on those stolen possessions, scoring 25 points off of turnovers.

Starkey said his team was much more energetic and aggressive on defense than they had been in recent weeks.

“[Our defense] was a lot more active,” he said. “I thought we did a good job of having really having active hands and just showing a lot more defensive intensity. We were a lot more connected, our voices were there and we were in position to do some things.”

The Flashes’ leading scorer was sophomore forward Nila Blackford, who had 19 points, nine rebounds and a block. Seven of her rebounds were on the offensive glass.

Fellow forward Lindsay Thall, a junior, scored 12 points, six of which came in the fourth quarter.

Thall was in foul trouble for much of the game (she only played five minutes in the first half), but was still effective all over the court. Along with her scoring she had seven rebounds, dished out an assist, had two blocks and grabbed two steals.

“The most valuable minutes for [Thall] if she’s in foul trouble are going to be late-game minutes because she knows how we execute,” Starkey said. “She’s a great shot blocker and can stretch the floor with her three-point shooting.”

Shumate also scored in double digits, finishing with 10 points, four rebounds, an assist, a block and a team-high three steals.

Kent State will need to bring more of the same intensity tomorrow, as the Flashes will stay in DeKalb to face NIU again at 2 p.m. 

Getting a win against the number two team in the conference is big for a KSU team that was struggling, but to come away with a pair of victories would shore up Kent’s chances of making the MAC tournament.

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