Flashes play in pain, aim to finish off MAC strong

Joe Murphy

Melissa DeGrate is playing with a dislocated left shoulder.

Other players have been under the weather.

The Flashes needed a bit of recuperation time.

They got it this past week.

For the first time since late December, the women’s basketball team had a weekend without a game. With only five games left in the regular season, the Flashes used the bye week as a chance to rest up for the home stretch.

Now, the Flashes (14-8, 7-4 Mid-American Conference) head back into action tonight at 7 when they visit last-place Buffalo (4-18, 2-9 MAC).

As the season winds down, it can be beneficial for a team to get some time off to get players healthy and work on fine-tuning its game. Last year, it only hurt a team that was set to enter post-season play on a hot streak. Kent State had won eight in a row to end the season and earned a first-round bye in the MAC tournament. A week off, and the Flashes fell 64-58 in the quarterfinals to Marshall. Another nine days off and Kent State lost in the first round of the WNIT 61-51 to St. Joseph’s.

This year, coach Bob Lindsay has a different outlook.

“With last year’s team, I didn’t like that,” Lindsay said about his team having a week off. “We were on a roll. We had won eight in a row. We were kind of in a flow. With this year’s team, it’s going to help in my opinion. This team is actually going to benefit from having a week off.”

DeGrate is the latest in the series of players with injuries that have adopted the “play through the pain” mindset. While it has been crutches and time on the bench for other players such as freshman guard Asheley Harkins this season, it now becomes crunch time. The Flashes are in second place in the East Division behind Marshall, and they are in the middle of a pack of teams jockeying for a first-round tournament match at home.

The Flashes are helped by the easiest remaining schedule in the MAC. Kent State’s opponents have a combined 21-34 record. Marshall, the MAC East division leader, faces opponents with a combined 27-30 record.

“We need to approach every game like it’s an end of the season game,” Lindsay said. “We need to play with some intensity. We need to have some purpose in practice. That’s been a challenge for us at times this season.”

Free-throws have also been a challenge for Lindsay’s team. The Flashes barely crack the top 10 in the MAC in free-throw percentage with their 65 percent season average. That number has dropped from 78 and 72 the last two seasons.

The charity stripe hasn’t been too giving this season, and it has caused heartache in some close games. A six-point loss to Ohio could’ve been another conference win if not for the 54 percent Kent State shot from the line. Against Central Michigan, the Flashes only made it to the line five times, and lost 58-52.

The numbers are on the rise, however. Kent State used a 15-of-15 effort in the second half of last Wednesday’s game against Northern Illinois to propel a second-half rout of the Huskies.

“That was our best free-throw shooting game of the year,” Lindsay said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well, but at least we made free-throws. That helped us.”

Contact women’s basketball reporter Joe Murphy at [email protected].