Women’s basketball remains undefeated in February after strong defensive performance


Lillie Leasure

Katie Shumate (14), junior guard on Kent’s women’s basketball team, scored 21 points against Central Michigan University. Feb. 2, 2022.

Jimmy Oswald Sports Editor

After the Kent State women’s basketball team lost to Northern Illinois on Jan. 26 to fall to 2-6 in conference play, coach Todd Starkey said that February would be “our month. We’re going to be really good in February.”

The Flashes are now 5-0 in February after beating Ball State 64-61 Saturday, and they are 7-6 in the Mid-American Conference. 

“I’m most proud of our team for winning five games in 11 days,” Starkey said. “That’s a lot, and I’m just really proud of their resiliency. This team has had multiple opportunities to pack it in this year when things weren’t going our way in January.”

“We pressed the reset button for February, and said ‘We want February to be our month, and to be the team nobody wants to play in March.’ And we’re kind of on our track. The thing that excites me is we still haven’t played our best basketball yet.”

KSU is tied for fifth with Western Michigan in the MAC after starting the month of February in tenth place. The Cardinals (14-8 overall, 7-5 MAC) are in fourth. 

Senior forward Lindsey Thall said the team has learned “how to pull away and how to keep a lead.”

“We’ve learned a lot, especially since the beginning of MAC play,” Thall said. “We were in a lot of tight games, and we just weren’t coming out with the win. We’ve learned our lesson from those games and that’s going to carry on into the tournament.” 

Kent State held a 20-11 lead after the first period. Junior guard Katie Shumate scored seven points, and sophomore guard Casey Santoro hit back-to-back three-pointers. 

The Flashes held the Cardinals to 33 percent (5-of-15) shooting from the field and 12.5 percent (1-of-8) from the three-point range. KSU’s defense also forced four turnovers in the first.

Kent State extended its lead to start the second and after back-to-back jumpers by junior forward Nila Blackford it led 26-13. This would prove to be the Flashes’ largest lead of the night.

Ball State went on a 14-4 run to end the first half, and KSU took a slim 30-27 lead into the locker room. 

The Flashes had their worst period of the night shooting, going 35.7 percent (5-of-14) on field goals and 0-5 on three pointers. The Cardinals improved their shooting to 50 percent (7-of-14). 

The third period was back-and-forth with four lead changes. Ball State took a two-point lead to start the second half before Kent State reclaimed it with three-pointers by Thall and freshman forward Bridget Dunn. 

KSU went on a 7-2 run, with shots from the distance by Shumate and Thall, to enter the final period ahead 47-44.

Ball State duplicated its second period shooting by going 7-of-14 again. It improved its three-point shooting, going 3-of-4.

The Flashes went 6-of-15 (40 percent) from the field and 4-of-8 from the distance.

The Cardinals pulled within one point to start the final period, but buckets by Dunn and Shumate gave KSU a five-point lead. 

Kent State led 53-48 with under six minutes left, but back-to-back three pointers from Ball State put the Cardinals ahead by one. 

The Flashes scored six straight points with a shot from Blackford and free throws by Santoro and junior guard Clare Kelly. 

A Blackford foul brought Ball State to the free-throw line, and the two shots cut the Flashes lead to three. 

Graduate student forward Chyna Latimer scored a bucket with 35 seconds left to pull the Cardinals within one, but consecutive fouls by Ball State led to three points from the Flashes with 12 seconds left.

The Cardinals hit a three-pointer with six seconds left. After a Ball State foul, Santoro hit two free-throw shots to put KSU ahead by three again. Freshman guard Ally Becki threw the ball up to try and tie the game, but the shot wasn’t close, and the Flashes held on for the victory.

Thall was the player who contested the missed shot to seal the win.

“I remember against Toledo last year I got a three shot in my face to go to overtime,” Thall said. “It was nice to not foul and have her miss there. We were focused on the three-point line, so I had to run her off the line.” 

Ball State’s shooting decreased in the fourth period; it went 6-of-15 (40 percent) on field goals and 3-of-9 (33.3 percent) from the distance. Kent State also shot 40 percent (4-of-10) and 81.8 percent (9-of-11) on free throws. 

The Flashes have held MAC opponents to 61.4 points per game, the second-best in the conference. 

“We talked about if we can hold them close to our conference average, we’d have a good chance to win,” Starkey said. “[Ball State] made some plays, and they are a good team so they’re going to make some plays. Other than the 17-4 run I thought we were pretty dominant defensively. That’s the way we’ve been able to get back into the conference race, it’s because we can hang our hat on defense.” 

Shumate, who is the team’s leading scorer with 12.3 points per game, had a game-high 20 points. She was 4-of-4 on free throws and had two assists.

“She is tough to handle when we get her to her spots,” Starkey said. “We ran a couple things to get the ball inside because they were really crowding Nila and Lindsey. Katie’s really good at scoring in the paint, so we felt like we could isolate her a little bit.” 

Santoro had 16 points, three assists and three rebounds. 

Santoro credited her teammates for helping her performance.

“It’s nice to have really good shooters,” she said. “Because it helps me out, it opens up lanes. I’m just trying to do whatever we need to do to win.”

Blackford, who is third in the MAC in rebounding with 212 this season, had a team-high six rebounds along with six points and a steal.

It was Blackford’s first game since Jan. 12 that she didn’t score in the double-digits. 

“Nila has been playing so well that teams have to game plan for that,” Starkey said. “[But] it opened up some stuff for Casey and Katie. [Nila] was trying to be aggressive, but she wasn’t finishing some of those. But, she was dealing with some double teams.” 

The Flashes will next play Northern Illinois (10-12, 7-7), which is tied for seventh place, on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the M.A.C. Center. 

“We’re finding ourselves again,” Santoro said. “We struggled a little bit in January. We knew [Ball State] had five wins [in a row], so to play them and get our fifth win was huge. It was a big momentum changer.”

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