Senior duo leads through season

Tyler McIntosh

In October, the Mid-American Conference News Media Association predicted the Kent State women’s basketball team would finish second in the MAC East Division behind Bowling Green. Fast-forward five months and that is exactly where the team stands.

“Our expectations every year is to play championship-level basketball, put in the necessary effort and pay attention to detail,” Kent State assistant coach Marc Wilson said.

Kent State started off the season with a record of 7-4 in non-conference play. This 11-game stretch set the tone for the Flashes’ season.

“Non-conference games should always prepare you for your conference. We were happy about how the non-conference games prepared us,” Wilson said.

Kent State started the season by beating Lipscomb 69-34. Two days later, it took a period of overtime to defeat Auburn 68-64. Wilson called the win over Auburn a very big early-season win.

Next, the Flashes competed in the National City Xavier Invitational. Here, Valparaiso would hand Kent State its first loss of the season by a score of 66-62 in overtime, but the Flashes would go on to win the consolation game against Elon 57-54.

During winter break, the Flashes traveled to Hawaii to play two games, but this trip was no day at the beach as they lost both games 61-55 and 67-56.

Even though Kent State’s out-of-conference schedule ended on a down note, statistics showed this team had the potential to compete with the best teams in the MAC.

“We definitely felt like we could win the MAC,” senior guard Malika Willoughby said. “We knew we could win on the road or at home.”

Kent State started off 4-1 in MAC play with the loss coming at the hands of MAC East Division Champion Bowling Green.

“Losing to Bowling Green at home was probably the low point of the season for us. We came back and then missed some key foul shots late in the game,” Wilson said.

The highlight of their start was a 73-56 win over Buffalo. This win was conference win No. 200 for Kent State coach Bob Lindsay.

Later, a four-game winning streak started with a 13-point victory over Ball State. After a 10-point defeat of Northern Illinois, Kent State defeated Ohio 73-66 in overtime. The winning streak peaked with a 52-33 beating of rival Akron. The streak ended when the Flashes were unable to defeat No. 24 nationally ranked Bowling Green.

The Flashes would rebound from their loss to Bowling Green by finishing the regular season by besting both Miami and Buffalo by double digits. Kent State finished the regular season with a record of 19-8 overall and 12-4 in the MAC and will receive a bye in the first round of the MAC women’s tournament.

Willoughby said the team was playing its best basketball at the end of the season.

“We stopped turning the ball over,” she said. “Sarah Burgess has picked up some of the scoring load and our defense has improved.”

MAC Player of the Year Shearer was No. 12 in the nation in scoring with 20.6 points per game. She led the team in rebounding with 7.1 rebounds per game and field-goal percentage with 51.4 percent. Shearer was also named MAC East Player of the Week five times. The senior finished the season by scoring 20 or more points in each of the last six games. ESPN The Magazine recently named Shearer Academic All-American of the Year.

However, Kent State was not just a one-woman team. Malika Willoughby was voted MAC Defensive Player of the Year last season. Willoughby’s 2.93 steals per game has put her at No. 1 in the MAC and No. 20 in the nation. She also leads the MAC in assists with 5.19 assists per game.

“We showed them you have to stick to your commitments. You have to work hard and stay focused. It’s the little things that count. If you do the little things the big things will come,” Willoughby said.

The Flashes will play Ball State in the second round of the MAC Women’s Tournament at 3 p.m. today at Quicken Loans Arena.

Contact sports correspondent Tyler McIntosh at [email protected]