Flashes trounce Herd in MAC semifinals

Matt Peters

The women won the game and are in the championship Saturday afternoon at 1pm in the Gund.

Credit: Andrew popik

CLEVELAND — Melissa DeGrate stood just beyond the 3-point line firing shot after shot while warming up for the second half of the Kent State women’s basketball team’s Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinal game against Marshall.

Apparently practice really does make perfect.

After being virtually invisible with no points and two fouls in the first half, DeGrate’s four second-half 3s pushed the Flashes past Marshall for the 73-57 win. Kent State now turns its attention to Bowling Green for tomorrow’s 1 p.m. championship game at Gund Arena.

While the Flashes began the game behind from the outset, in the second half they reverted back to the dominant defensive team they have been all through their now nine-game winning streak. The Flashes outscored Marshall 45-25 in the second half.

The charge was in part led by DeGrate finding her rhythm. Kent State coach Bob Lindsay gave the senior guard a halftime reminder that she only hit one shot in last year’s MAC Tournament loss to Marshall. DeGrate said she led with her defense, and then the shots started to fall.

“I’m the type of player that needs to get my offense started by defense, and I wasn’t doing that (in the first half),” DeGrate said. “(Last year) I didn’t play too good, and I didn’t want to play like that.”

She finished the game with a team-high 18 points.

With two or more players consistently diverting their attention to DeGrate, the Flashes began setting screens in the second half. DeGrate ran through a maze of Marshall players, often while being held or obstructed, and found open spots to take 3s. The attention Marshall gave DeGrate also opened up shots for other players as well.

“When we went on our run, that’s what were trying to do – get everyone spread out and spread out the defense,” junior forward Lindsay Shearer said. Shearer finished the game with 16 points and six rebounds. “We knew they would be chasing Melissa around because she has a good shot, but it opened up the middle.”

Just over four minutes into the second half, Shearer’s jump shot gave Kent State its first lead of the game at 36-34. Then the Flashes took a missed Sikeetha Shepard-Hall 3-pointer and turned it into DeGrate’s first points of the game and a five-point lead. The Flashes never looked back.

Even when junior point guard Malika Willoughby collected her fourth foul at the 14-minute mark, Kent State kept rolling. Sophomore guards Kerrie James and La’Kia Stewart took charge of the Flashes offense in Willoughby’s absence. The two added seven points and four assists each.

“In the second half they got all their weapons going,” Marshall coach Royce Chadwick said. “When Willoughby went to the bench, we thought we could make a run right there, and we couldn’t press them. We couldn’t make them turn it over. I thought that was the difference in the game. We’ve got Willoughby on the bench, and we couldn’t take advantage of it.”

The loss effectively ended Marshall’s tenure in the MAC. The Thundering Herd will move to Conference USA next season.

The matchup with Bowling Green will be one between mentor and protÈgÈe. Bowling Green coach Curt Miller spent time as a graduate assistant at Kent State before moving on to coach the Falcons. Miller’s Falcons have never beaten Lindsay’s Flashes in six attempts. Bowling Green has not beaten Kent State since 1997.

Contact sports editor Matt Peters at [email protected].