Flashes scope out the northern competition

Matt Gottfried

Only three teams have beat the Kent State women’s basketball team in its past 16 games.

Over that stretch, the Flashes have lost just four games for a regular season record of 19-8 overall and 12-4 in the Mid-American Conference. That record earned them a first round bye in the upcoming MAC tournament set to begin today.

But unfortunately for the Flashes, all three of those teams are conference rivals, and if they wish to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, they’re likely going to have to go through that same trio of teams.

No. 24 nationally ranked Bowling Green (25-2, 16-0 MAC) and Eastern Michigan (21-6, 15-1 MAC) enter the tournament as the favorites, as they clinched their respective East and West Division titles.

And while the Flashes possess the third best MAC record, they will again find themselves as the underdogs after suffering a 69-63 loss at Western Michigan (14-13, 11-5 MAC) Feb. 4.

But senior guard Malika Willoughby said that’s just fine with her.

“We are the underdogs, and that’s probably a good thing, because everyone roots for the underdogs,” Willoughby said. “The pressure is on them, because they already beat us, and they are expected to do it again. We just have to put pressure on them and get them frustrated, then take the ball and put points up on the other side. We’ll be ready for them.”

Eastern and Western Michigan, meanwhile, both defeated Kent State on its own home courts. But with a neutral site at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Willoughby said she feels any future meetings will play out much differently.

“It’s going to take a great effort on everyone’s part to knock off one of those teams,” Willoughby said. “It seemed like the ball always bounced their way when we played on their courts in those losses. We just can’t have those defensive lapses, and we have to be ready to play. We have to let them know that we aren’t going to let them get up on us.”

Senior Casey Rost (17.6 point per game) and junior Carrie Moore (17.1 points per game) lead the MAC’s No. 1 scoring offense for Western Michigan, ranking No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, as the conference’s top scorers.

However, a less than stellar defense that ranks last in the MAC has accounted for a record of just over .500. That defense surrenders an average of 70.3 points per game, while the Flashes’ allow an average of 59.2 points per game for its No. 4 ranking.

Eastern Michigan, likewise, relies heavily on its own defense, which ranks No. 1 in the MAC. The Eagles give up a league-best 55.1 points per game.

In preparation for any defense thrown at them, the MAC’s leading scorer, senior forward Lindsay Shearer, said her team has been looking at numerous defensive formations in practice.

“Preparing for (being double-teamed) has helped a lot, especially lately,” Shearer said. “We’ve been practicing against a lot of box-one just in case they throw some different stuff out there. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them throw some junk ‘D’ out there just because they know I scored 44 points last year. The defense I’ve seen in practice is probably the best defense I’ll see all year.”

Those 44 points came against Bowling Green last year in the MAC Championship game where Kent State lost 81-75.

Senior Ryan Coleman’s 16.9 points per game serves as one of only two Eagle scoring attacks to rank in the conference’s top 20 scorers. The other to crack the top 20 is senior Nikki Knapp, who averages 13.1 points per game. The athleticism of the Eagles is something Kent State coach Bob Lindsay was quick to acknowledge.

“It’s very hard to match up with the Eastern Michigan wings,” Lindsay said. “Ryan Coleman and Patrice McKinney are both very good athletes and are difficult to match up against. They have the tendency to do most of their scoring with those three players.”

For Shearer and her fellow seniors, they have something motivating them this year that they didn’t have last year against Bowling Green: One last opportunity.

That’s one last opportunity to win a MAC Championship. One last opportunity to represent the Kent State Golden Flashes. And as Willoughby put it, one last time to give it their all.

“I got to give it all I got, because I’m never going to play again,” Willoughby said. “I’m 23, and this has been a long run – a good run. I’ve been playing since third grade and when this tournament is all said and done, I want to win. But most of all, I want to be able to say ‘Hey, I gave it my all.'”

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