Defensive-minded Flashes head to Northern Illinois

Matt Gottfried

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Offensive numbers may look good on paper, but Kent State women’s basketball coach Bob Lindsay said it’s his team’s defense that has contributed to most of its wins this season.

The Flashes have prided themselves on that theory all season to a 14 -7, 7-3 Mid-American Conference record.

Kent State, which ranks No. 4 in the MAC in scoring defense, relies heavily on an up-tempo defense and potent rebounding to secure wins. It looks to continue the same this weekend when it travels to Northern Illinois (9-12, 5-5 MAC) at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The Huskies, who have won three of their last five games, possess one of the league’s top offensive threats.

“They have a real good player in Stephanie Raymond,” Lindsay said. “She is very capable of being a first-team all conference player this year. We have to come out and defend her well, as well as execute our offense.”

Raymond averages 15.9 points per game this season, which puts her at No. 5 in the MAC. Northern Illinois enters the contests ranked No. 10 overall in scoring.

The Kent State defense, meanwhile, has held its opponents to just 37 percent shooting from the floor. It is No. 1 in the MAC in steals with 11.52 a game, and No. 3 in blocks with 64 this season.

Senior guard Malika Willoughby has accounted for the bulk of the steals, with a conference-high 3.14 a game. Her 239 career steals ranks No. 9 all-time in school history, two shy of No. 8 and 15 of No. 2.

Junior Tiffany LaFleur’s two blocks in Wednesday’s 68-55 victory over Ball State brought her career total to 67, which ranks No. 6 in the record books at Kent State.

Yet with all the success the MAC’s leading scorer, Lindsay Shearer, has had this season, Kent State’s offensive struggles are often overlooked, Lindsay said.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say I’ve been frustrated all season with our inability to score,” Lindsay said. “I think we know how we have to play to win. It’s just a matter of whether or not we go out and do that. We’re not a very emotional team; we don’t play up with other teams. We’re a blood and guts team. We have to grind it out. We win with our defense.”

Northern Illinois is also known for its defense, which constantly changes from one game to the next.

“They are a multiple defensive team,” Lindsay said. “They throw a lot of different defenses at you. Their coach comes from Notre Dame, so they do a lot of what Notre Dame does.”

The Flashes will attempt to defend their No. 2 rank in the MAC Saturday afternoon against whatever defense the Huskies decide to throw at them. Kent State has won five of its last seven games, finding itself behind Bowling Green (19-2, 10-0 MAC) in the conference standings. With only six games left in the regular season, the Flashes are battling for a high seed in next month’s MAC Tournament.

“As you come down the stretch here, any game is huge,” Lindsay said. “It’s a confidence builder and gives a you a little bit more of an incentive to go out there and work harder. We’re playing for position here in the league and in the tournament. There is a lot to play for. Every game is equally important, regardless of who you play.”

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