Blackford grabs career-high in rebounds in Akron blowout

Sophomore Asiah Dingle (3) on a fast break to the hoop against Akron on Wed. Feb. 26, 2020. Kent State won 68-50 over the University of Akron.

Freshman forward Nila Blackford returned to Kent State’s lineup in a big way Wednesday, grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds in the team’s 68-50 win over Akron.

“It feels really good to be back playing with my team and being in the game atmosphere,” Blackford said. “I was really aggressive toward the glass and wanted to do whatever I could to ensure that we got a win.”

Blackford missed the Flashes (16-10, 9-6 Mid American Conference) last three games because of a concussion she suffered two weeks ago against Akron (13-13, 6-9 MAC).

“Fifteen rebounds was a phenomenal performance of her really pursuing the ball and just being tough and gritty,” coach Todd Starkey said. 

Blackford’s shot only 2-of-12 from the field, scoring seven points.

“My rhythm’s a little off just with sitting out for two weeks,” Blackford said. “That means I have to work harder in practice and get back to normal.”

Sophomore guard Asiah Dingle scored a game-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting and dished out five assists.

“I’m definitely more focused on finishing with taking less shot attempts,” Dingle said. “It just comes down to focus. I think [focus is] being locked into the game and not worrying about if I miss a shot or just got scored on.”

Ever since Dingle returned from a two game suspension at the start of February, she has been finishing her shots more consistently.

“Asiah has obviously been finishing at the basket much better in the last three or four weeks,” Starkey said. “She’s getting a lot of the same shots she was getting before, but her focus has been better.”

The Flashes’ defense held the Zips to eight points in the second quarter and four points in the fourth.

“I just think our focus was really good,” Starkey said. “We talked about being connected defensively and I thought we did an excellent job of being connected all over the court.”

Kent State allowed Akron to outscore the Flashes 20-17 in the third quarter.

“We had a real lapse there in the third quarter,” Starkey said. “I was disappointed and all of our assistant coaches were upset too. [In the huddle] I was like listen, ‘You’re taking your foot off the gas here.’”

The Flashes had three players in double digits, Dingle with 18 points, sophomore forward Lindsey Thall with 11 and redshirt senior Megan Carter with 10. Carter grabbed seven rebounds and stole the ball four times as well.

“It’s been good to have the type of balance in scoring,” Starkey said. “You have to guard us in so many different ways, and we did a great job of finding shooters in the first half and playing behind on ball screen action.”

Kent State is alone in fourth place in the MAC standings and a game behind Ohio University (17-9, 10-5 MAC) for third place. The top four teams get a first round bye to Cleveland in the MAC Tournament.

The Flashes’ next game is at 2 p.m. Saturday against Bowling Green (9-18, 2-13 MAC) on the road. The Falcons beat third-place Ohio Wednesday at home.

Contact Kathryn Rajnicek at [email protected].