Dynamic Duo

Joshua Hudson

Even with limited experience, the Flashes’ tandem at center has found a way to help Kent State win

Sophomores Mallorie Griffith and Tiffany LaFleur have combined to fill the void of All-MAC center Andrea Csaszar, who is playing in Europe this season. Griffith began the season as a starter before an injury in the conference opener. Since that point, LaF

Credit: Beth Rankin

Kent State sophomores Mallorie Griffith and Tiffany LaFleur have taken completely different paths during their young careers for the Flashes. Despite the differences, the two centers have one common goal: Do whatever it takes to help the Flashes win.

The two have done just that in helping the Flashes earn the No. 2 seed in the Mid-American Conference tournament. They won their sixth MAC East championship and start the tournament with a seven-game winning streak. Associate head coach Lori Bodnar said the contributions of these two are just one of the reasons for the team’s success.

“I think that these two will do anything for the team to get a win,” she said. “Mallorie does a lot of the dirty work with rebounding and playing defense while Tiffany’s presence just scares people.”

The only path that is the same for Griffith and LaFleur is the one to Bodnar when they take a seat during the game. Bodnar, the forwards and centers position coach, has worked with Griffith and LaFleur this season. She tells the players what they need to look out for on the court and gives them pointers for what to look for the next time they are on the court.

The duo has had the difficult task of following departed Andrea Csaszar. Csaszar, an All-MAC player, left the team with a year of eligibility remaining to play in Europe.

The two current centers operate like a tag team. When one comes in, she gives the other her warm-up and heads into action. Bodnar said she likes the rotation she has in the interior and the way the team chemistry has picked up.

But that wasn’t always the case at the beginning of the season. Injuries and lack of experience have been something the Flashes have had to overcome.

Mallorie’s journey

Griffith was in the starting lineup for the first 12 games of the season. She averaged five points and 4.7 rebounds in those first dozen games. But her season took an unexpected turn in the first MAC game of the season at Ohio.

She bruised her shin and missed the majority of the game against the Bobcats. The Flashes ended up losing the game 56-50. The Flashes were also out-rebounded 46-30 in the game.

Griffith said watching the team struggle was a difficult thing to do. But she continued to work and practice, so she could be ready to help the team when she returned.

Her season took another unexpected turn when she suffered a concussion in the Central Michigan game Jan. 12. The Flashes also lost that game 58-52.

“It was hard watching Tiff and Lindsay get tired and wanting a sub,” Griffith said. “They are good players, but they can’t perform at their top level because they are tired. You feel bad, but they did a good job and got us some wins.”

Griffith said she remained positive and continued to work hard in anticipation of a return into the lineup. That day finally came Jan. 22.

The Flashes went on the road to face Ball State. She came off the bench and contributed a block, an assist and a steal. She then added two points and eight rebounds in a victory over No. 1 seed Bowling Green Jan. 26.

Bodnar said Griffith is close to 100 percent, but the leg still bothers her. Just having Griffith on the floor has been a huge boost to the team.

“She is a tough kid and goes out there and battles for you,” she said. “She brings toughness inside and goes in there and gets the rebounds. She is a very physical player.”

Griffith’s playing time has increased since she has returned from the injury. Her starting roll has gone to LaFleur, but Griffith is normally the first player off of the bench.

Bodnar said Griffith has benefited by coming off of the bench. She gets a chance to see what is going on with the game and how the opposing defense is playing the interior.

Griffith’s bench play came up big in the Flashes victory over Miami. She came up with a huge offensive rebound and scored three points in the final minute to help seal the victory. She finished the game with 10 points and 11 rebounds to record her first career double-double.

“I have the mentality that I am going to get every loose ball, every offensive and defensive rebound,” she said. “I just do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Tiffany’s journey

LaFleur, a sophomore from Scarborough, Canada, has adapted to her new role on the team. Within four years, she has adapted to being a basketball player, period.

LaFleur played volleyball in high school before a coaching change with the program led her to play basketball.

“I decided that it was time for me to try something different, so I decided to play basketball,” she said. “I still have a lot of learning to do.”

In coaching LaFleur, Bodnar said she sometimes has to take her time, so she understands what is going on during the game.

“I think she has gotten a lot better, but the game goes by so fast,” Bodnar said. “She could be a dominant force in the league, but she sometimes gets too frustrated with herself.”

LaFleur started the year coming off of the bench but was inserted into the starting lineup after Griffith’s injuries. Her first game as a starter presented an interesting matchup. That matchup came against Marshall and 6-foot-2 Modupe Ishola, a towering inside presence in the MAC. The sophomore center, who averages 8.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, was held to just four points and one rebound.

LaFleur said she was nervous in the start because she didn’t want to mess up and cost the team the game.

LaFleur went on to score 10 points as well as six rebounds, two blocks and an assist in 29 minutes. From that point on, LaFleur has been in the starting lineup. She is averaging 3.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game but runs into frequent foul trouble.

Kent State coach Bob Lindsay said LaFleur has learned a lot but still has a way to go.

“Even though she doesn’t look ready for the WNBA yet, her improvement level is significant,” he said.

The rotation

The Flashes now have a formidable rotation inside that includes MAC Player of the Year candidate Lindsay Shearer and sophomore forward La’kia Stewart. The four players rotate on the inside and give Kent State depth on the interior. That helps with foul trouble and the occasional case of exhaustion.

But, with the way the rotation works, Griffith and LaFleur rarely see the court at the same time. Bodnar said it is not intentional, but it is the way that rotation goes.

“If we were to have Mallorie and Tiffany on the court at the same time, it wouldn’t be the same look without Lindsay,” she said. “That’s why we play Tiffany and Lindsay at the same time and have Mallorie come first off of the bench.”

Even though Griffith is still not 100 percent and LaFleur gets into foul trouble, the Flashes’ inside rotation has helped them outrebound their last four opponents. Coincidentally, they have won every one of those games and look to continue that streak in the MAC tournament.

Contact women’s basketball reporter Joshua Hudson at [email protected].