DeGrate’s big plays carry Flashes to win

Joe Murphy

Senior guard Melissa DeGrate sets her feet before a layup during Saturday nights victory against Eastern Michigan.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Big players make big plays in big games.

Melissa DeGrate is a big player.

The senior guard carried the Flashes (12-7, 5-3 Mid-American Conference) to a 63-60 victory over the defending MAC champs, Eastern Michigan, (14-4, 4-3 MAC) Saturday at the M.A.C. Center.

Big players also take advantage of second chances. When DeGrate, who finished the game with 24 points, stepped to the free-throw line with 1:38 left in the second half and the Flashes up 56-54, she, along with everyone else, expected two makes. But when the first shot rattled out, Eastern Michigan jumped in the lane early, giving DeGrate two more attempts. She converted both, making it a two-possession game.

“You just can’t do bone-headed things like that on the road and expect to win,” Eastern Michigan coach Suzy Merchant said of the lane violation. “It just seemed like everything was going Kent State’s way tonight.”

The Eagles responded as guard Ryan Coleman closed the gap to one with a three-point play. But with 44 seconds left, the game plan for the Flashes was simple: Get the ball in No. 30’s hands.

The Flashes were successful, as DeGrate broke loose on the right side, received the pass and spotted up from behind the arc. DeGrate raised up and splashed a 3, getting the crowd of 2,274 on its feet for the first time all night.

“We had run that play a couple of times earlier in the night,” coach Bob Lindsay said. “Melissa was the only one that was making shots. We called her number, and she made it.”

Coleman responded with a 3, making it a one-point game again. But Lindsay Shearer, who was quiet for most of the night, converted two free throws, making it 63-60.

With 15 seconds left, the Flashes’ pressure defense kept the ball out of Coleman’s hands and forced Nikki Knapp, who was 4-of-11 on the night, to heave up a 3. Her shot sailed long, and Mallorie Griffith, who finished with a game-high eight rebounds, snatched up the loose ball as the clock expired.

“It was a great game all around,” Lindsay said. “Two good teams playing each other. The difference in the game maybe was literally the last possession. We hit some key shots and made some free throws late. That might have been enough to stop Ryan Coleman.”

Offense was a rarity, as the two best defenses in the MAC squared off. The Flashes used pressure defense to hold the Eagles to 18 first-half points.

Despite holding the Eagles to 8-of-30 from the field in the first half, the Flashes could never pull away, as DeGrate and LaFleur sat out most of the first half with foul trouble.

Shearer, one of the top scorers in the MAC, only played 12 minutes in the first half because of ineffective play, according to Lindsay.

Shearer, who needed 26 points to reach 1,000 career points, will have to wait. She enters Wednesday night’s game at Marshall 14 points shy of the milestone.

The Flashes’ agenda was to slow the pace down on offense and not let Eastern Michigan, who averages 70 points a game, run up the score. Kent State doesn’t have the firepower to outshoot most teams in the MAC.

“We’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut,” Lindsay said. “We play really good defense when we have legs. We’re able to pressure the ball. Then we start getting tired, and we need people to come off the bench and play at the same level of competency and intensity. We just wear down.”

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