Kent State’s late rally propels team to victory

Matt Gottfried

Junior guard Kerrie James goes up for a jumper during the game against Miami Saturday evening. The Flashes beat the RedHawks 63-48. SAMANTHA RAINWATER | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

After the Kent State women’s basketball team surrendered a 13-point lead to Miami early in the second half, it was only fitting that the senior squad stepped up to spark a late run to defeat the RedHawks 63-48 Saturday night.

In front of one of the largest crowds of the season on Senior Night, the Flashes (18-8, 11-1 Mid-American Conference) fed off an energized crowd as they picked up their 31st home win over the last three years. During that span of 34 games, senior guard Malika Willoughby and her squad of four seniors have made it a priority to defend their home court.

“You always have to protect home court,” Willoughby said. “When we’re at the M.A.C. (Center) we always try to play as hard as we can. We had the crowd behind us, and it’s really fun to play on your home court. You don’t have anybody calling you names, and our fans are great.”

Willoughby also talked about some things that have made the atmosphere at home so unique.

“We’ve got our senior citizens sitting there in the front, always yelling at the refs. Everyone loves them. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play for them?”

Behind the leadership of Willoughby and senior forward Lindsay Shearer, Kent State reeled off a 15-2 run in the final six minutes of the contest to seal its 11th home win of the season in 12 games. Its only loss came to No. 25 Bowling Green in a tight 61-58 defeat on Jan. 14.

Shearer, who finished with a game-high 26 points, notched her sixth-straight 20-plus point effort in the final home game of her career. In doing so, she moved into sole possession of fifth place in school history with 1,706 career points. She also moved into fifth in rebounding with a pair of rebounds, adding to her career total of 778.

“She has been a great player for us for three out of the last four years and did some good things her freshman year,” Lindsay said. “She is certainly, from an offensive standpoint, maybe as good as any player we’ve had here. She is certainly as skilled as anyone who has been here. She’s been a big factor in the amount of success we’ve had over the past four years.”

The Flashes utilized a superb defensive effort in the first half to account for a 25-19 advantage, as they held the RedHawks to 6-of-30 shooting from the floor for 20 percent. That effort also kept the RedHawks from draining a 3-pointer the entire game, marking the first time in 367 games that they went without a trey. The streak, which began in 1993, was third in the nation behind only Cleveland State and Drake.

Kent State coach Bob Lindsay said it was the defense that made the difference in the game.

“I thought our defense was a major factor in the game with the pressure we put on the ball,” Lindsay said. “We had a little bit of a stretch there in the second half where they cut the lead on us because we weren’t defending the way we should have, but we made some big plays late in the game and overcame that.”

Lindsay, who applauded his senior squad in the game’s opening ceremonies for its tremendous contributions, believed it was the play of Shearer and junior forward La’kia Stewart that helped to spark that late run.

Stewart scored 11 points and raked in 13 rebounds off the bench for her fifth double-double of the season.

“When Shearer is making shots, she’s part of that (emotional lift),” Lindsay said. “But she’s not all of that. When La’kia made some of those plays that she made tonight, it’s a big help to us, it’s a huge lift. A lot of those were big plays. That’s the kind of thing that gets you going.”

Aside from Shearer and Willoughby’s performances, seniors Kacie Vavrek and Tiffany Kelly also made contributions in their home finale. Vavrek drained one of her team’s four treys in addition to hauling in a pair of rebounds. Kelly, meanwhile, recorded a basket of her own and sunk both of her free throw attempts for four points.

For the seniors, their playing career at home may have ended. But as Shearer stated, the season is far from over.

“It was an emotional night,” Shearer said. “I mean, yeah we’re coming to the end of our careers, but hopefully we still have a long way to go. I’m going to miss playing at the M.A.C. (Center) and playing in front of our fans, but we have to stay focused on what’s ahead of us because we still have a lot to play.”

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