Women’s basketball advances to MAC Tournament semifinals

The Kent State women’s basketball team celebrates with the Kent State fans after winning 72-66 against Buffalo in a quarterfinal game at the Rocket Mortgage Field House in Cleveland on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. 

Last year, Kent State took on Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals, and Kent State lost by 33 points.

One year later, the Flashes found themselves in the same position, but with a different outcome. They beat the Bulls by a score of 72-66 Wednesday night in Cleveland, Ohio.

“It feels really good [to get this win],” redshirt senior guard Megan Carter said. “This game was the one that mattered the most, and we took advantage of it.”

Kent State came out of the locker room down by one point and scored 24 points in the third quarter, matching their shooting percentage from the first, and gave them a 55-47 lead going into the final quarter.

“I’m really proud of our fight and our composure,” coach Todd Starkey said. “I thought we did a really good job of coming out of the locker room in the third quarter and playing really solid basketball and not getting rattled.”

The Flashes led by as many as 15 points in the fourth, but the Bulls battled back and cut the Flashes’ lead to four.

“We were just being really aggressive and moving the ball,” Carter said. “Our ball movement had them a little frazzled because they were so aggressive on defense, and they were running around.”

The Flashes shot 24-of-27 from the free throw line. They did not commit a single foul in the first quarter and held Buffalo to 15-of-17 from the line. Buffalo allowed Kent State to get into the bonus early in the fourth quarter.

“We definitely had to capitalize on that,” sophomore guard Asiah Dingle said. “We saw that we were in the bonus, so we had to attack.”

Kent State had four players in double digits: Dingle with 18 points, freshman forward Nila Blackford with 14 points and Carter and freshman guard Katie Shumate each with 12 points. Blackford achieved a double-double by grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds and Dingle had a game-high seven assists.

“Katie is the first freshman at Kent State to be recognized as an all-conference player since 2008, and she’s a very versatile player,” Starkey said. “Looking at another freshman, Nila Blackford, she’d been battling back from the concussion she had earlier in the season, and she had 14 [points] and 13 [rebounds] tonight. The youth movement is strong.”

Freshman guard Dyaisha Fair led the way for Buffalo by scoring 36 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

“This young lady here, I’ve tried to share with the world that she was special,” Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “She’s a substance kid. The reason why she said ‘yes’ to us is because she believed that we had substance, and we were going to grow her into this woman that I know she’s on her way to become.”

The coronavirus outbreak forced MAC Tournament officials to allow only media members, team officials and player family members to be in attendance this week.

“Everybody that was on our pass list and was able to get into this game contributed to this win,” Starkey said. “I felt like our fans provided a really good atmosphere, and they tried to fill a 19,000 seat arena. It was great for our fans that were able to come because they participated in this win.”

Kent State will take on No. 7 Eastern Michigan in the MAC Tournament semifinals at about 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. In their only regular season meeting back at the beginning of January, the Flashes lost to the Eagles 74-69 at home.

Kathryn Rajnicek is a sports reporter. Contact her at [email protected].