Blackford continues dominant stretch of play as women’s basketball wins third straight

Senior+forward+Lindsey+Thall+and+sophomore+guard+Casey+Santoro+celebrate+during+the+Kent+State+womens+basketball+game+against+Miami+in+Kent%2C+Ohio+on+Monday%2C+Feb.+7.%C2%A0

Senior forward Lindsey Thall and sophomore guard Casey Santoro celebrate during the Kent State women’s basketball game against Miami in Kent, Ohio on Monday, Feb. 7. 

Earlier this season junior forward Nila Blackford faced a stretch where she scored less than 10 points in five of her seven starts. 

Blackford made it six straight double-digit points games Monday, scoring a team-high 22 points as the Kent State women’s basketball team beat Miami 83-61.

Head coach Todd Starkey said that Blackford’s been “playing great” as of late. 

“It’s a tough time to be a student athlete,” he said. “And you see other players that are good go through some slumps and highs and lows. But Nila’s battled through some things and has kind of settled down a little bit and had better focus.”

Starkey added that the team has focused on working Nila into the game plan more, something that wasn’t happening earlier this season. 

“We’ve also changed a little bit of our emphasis to try and get her the ball more,” Starkey said. “And we recognize that that can kind of set up everybody else.”

Blackford shot 10-of-15 from the floor and had nine rebounds, one shy of a double-double. 

The Flashes took the lead with 4:40 left in the first period and never gave it back. KSU had a 20-14 lead after the first thanks to freshman forward Bridget Dunn sinking two key three-pointers.

Dunn finished 5-of-9 from the field, including 3-of-6 from the distance, with 13 points and three rebounds. 

“A big emphasis that they’ve had with me is to work on my inside game,” Dunn said. “Just stay low and be aggressive down there. So I’ve started to try to do that as much as I can. Being able to play inside and then having a shot outside is definitely more dangerous as a player.” 

The Flashes widened their lead in the second after sophomore guard Casey Santoro hit a three-pointer and junior guard Katie Shumate scored eight straight points, and they took a 40-28 lead into halftime. 

Miami was 1-of-8 on three pointers in the first half. 

The RedHawks upped their game in the third period, going on a 7-2 run to start the second half. The two teams would each score 22 points in the third, with Kent State getting eight points from Blackford and five from free throws. 

The Redhawks had their best shooting of the night in the third, going 8-of-17 (47.1 percent) from the field. 

KSU entered the final period ahead 62-50, and it dominated the fourth by outscoring Miami 21-11 to take the win. 

Kent State was 8-of-13 (61.4 percent) in the fourth while holding the Redhawks to 5-of-14 (35.7 percent).

Starkey said ending games strongly was a point of emphasis for the team.

“Early in the conference play, we really were struggling with finishing games,” he said. “We got tired of it. They got tired of it. We’re like, ‘Hey, we don’t want to be that team anymore.’”

Miami was held to an overall shooting percentage of 37.3 while KSU ended with a percentage of 48.1. 

Blackford said communication was a big part of the defense’s success. 

“In the first half we didn’t do a great job of communicating,” Blackford said. “And in the second half, we definitely locked in a little bit more and rebounded. Coach puts an emphasis on everyone just rebounding at a high level and communicating with each other at a high level because those are the two things that are really going to be important to keeping teams where they belong.” 

It is the Flashes’s (13-7 overall, 5-6 Mid-American Conference) third straight win, and they are in ninth place in the MAC. There is a three-team tie for seventh. The Redhawks (7-13, 3-8) are in 10th. 

KSU’s 83 points were its third-highest total this season, and it tied for the highest against a Division I team. 

Blackford was impressed with how the offense played today.

“We were taking good shots, we were scoring inside and out, getting to the free throw line, which has been sort of a struggle for us,” she said. “But I think tonight we did a really great job of attacking the basket and just getting up there and knocking shots down.” 

Blackford added that the team has changed its mentality for the month of February. 

“I think we are just playing way more aggressive and way more confident,” she said. “ Just playing with a chip on our shoulder. We know we’re a good team and we all are looking for each other and playing for each other and just going on a high level, so that there’s no one who can really stop us.”

The Flashes 25-of-28 on free throws, its third highest percentage this season.

Starkey said that there were a lot of things, including free throws, that threw the team off during its early struggles in conference play.

“Identify issues,” Starkey said. “But what are some solutions? And one of the big solutions is to play more aggressive and get to the free throw line. We’ve been one of the better teams in the country at getting to the free throw line and keeping teams off the free throw line. So we’re playing solid defense without fouling, but also being aggressive enough offensively that we’re making teams defend without fouling up.” 

Shumate, KSU’s leading scorer, had 15 points, four rebounds and two assists. She was 7-of-9 from the free throw line. 

Senior forward Lindsey Thall scored 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists. 

Thall was 2-of-4 on three pointers and her first one of the day midway through the first period was her 200th in program history. She is only the second KSU women’s player ever to score 200 or more three pointers. Guard Larissa Lurken (2013-2017) is the other with 212. 

Starkey remains optimistic about the team’s future.

“​​I feel cautiously optimistic that we’re moving in the direction we need to,” he said. “We have the opportunity to really start to just chip away and get back into the mix of things. But there’s a lot of basketball left.”

The Flashes next travel to Central Michigan (4-17, 2-10), which is in last place, on Wednesday. It is KSU’s fourth game in seven days. 

Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Jimmy Oswald is a sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]