Women’s basketball defeats Ball State, moves to MAC Tournament semifinals

Matt Gottfried

Junior guard Sarah Burgess (12) cheers after Kent State scores during the second half of yesterday’s basketball game. The women’s basketball team advanced to the semifinals of the MAC Tournament with a 69-52 win over Ball State yesterday at the Quicken Lo

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

The Kent State women’s basketball team prided itself on defense throughout the entire season, and today’s Mid-American Conference Women’s Tournament second round with Ball State was no different.

The Flashes (20-8, 12-4 MAC) held the Cardinals (17-2, 9-7 MAC) to 24 percent shooting from the floor in the first half en route to a 37-22 halftime lead and never looked back as they soared to a 69-52 win.

“We need to win games with our defense, with our defensive intensity,” Kent State coach Bob Lindsay said. “We tend to grind it out. I have had teams in the past that can score more than this one, but this team plays as hard as any of them. We did it with our defense and made a few shots. That was the difference in the game.”

Senior forward Lindsay Shearer, who was named MAC Player of the Year Tuesday, also did her best to make a difference in the game.

Shearer led all scorers with her 26 points and eight rebounds, guiding the way to a solid offensive performance from the Flashes.

“Their post (was) banging us around a lot in the first half,” Shearer said. “In the second half, we started to play off them a little more and let the guards help us a little bit. It was definitely a physical game.”

Junior guard Sarah Burgess also provided an offensive boost off the bench, as she drained

4-of-six attempts from long range to finish the contest with 16 points. Those treys all came in the first half, where Kent State was able to exploit a weak Ball State zone defense.

“The last few games in the regular season I was struggling a bit from the outside and was getting down on myself,” Burgess said. “Coach just kept telling me there was nothing wrong with me, and I think that had a lot to do with it. I worked a lot on my shot in practice, and I just wanted to help the team in any way I could.”

The Flashes sunk six 3-pointers in that opening half, but it was their own defense that led the way to the victory.

“Any contribution from our guard play is a plus,” Lindsay said. “Most teams focus on stopping Lindsay (Shearer), and most teams have been unable to stop her.”

Leading the way defensively for Kent State was senior point guard Malika Willoughby, who picked up her second-straight MAC Defensive Player of the Year honor at Tuesday’s awards banquet. Willoughby orchestrated her team’s strong defensive effort, which forced 19 Ball State turnovers. She also added 11 points and four assists in the quarterfinal win.

“Our defense leads to our offense, flat out,” Burgess said. “If we’re not playing good defense, we’re usually not going to do good on offense.”

In fact, it took nearly seven minutes before the Cardinals drained their first field goal. That inability to score early in the game resulted in a 15-point deficit they were never able to overcome.

“We play the game with confidence,” Lindsay said. “When the other team cuts the lead on us, we’ve won enough games in the past to know not to get worried.”

On the other side of the bracket, regular season MAC Champion Bowling Green (26-2, 17-0 MAC) posted a 73-61 win over Northern Illinois (12-17, 7-10 MAC). Toledo (11-17, 5-12 MAC) defeated Western Michigan (14-14, 11-6 MAC) 64-59 in overtime.

With the win, the Flashes move on to the semifinals where they will take on MAC West Division Champion Eastern Michigan (22-6, 16-1 MAC).

The Eagles advanced to the semifinals earlier yesterday afternoon with a 76-66 win over Ohio (9-20, 5-12 MAC). The Eagles defeated the Flashes in their only meeting this year 65-55 on Jan. 25.

“Eastern Michigan is a great team all-around,” Shearer said. “We’re just going to have to play our defense, because that’s how we’re going to win that game. We have to come out and put pressure on them and just play an overall good game on Friday.”

Contact women’s basketball reporter Matt Gottfried at [email protected].