Hot Toledo offense ends women’s basketball season

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David Dermer

Junior forward Nila Blackford makes a move toward the basket during the Kent State women’s basketball team’s loss to Toledo in the second round of the WNIT in Toledo, Ohio on Monday, March 21

The Kent State women’s basketball team held its previous two opponents to an average of 54.1 points on 31.9 percent shooting going into the second round of the WNIT.

The Flashes’ season ended in a 79-59 loss to Toledo, the Mid-American Conference regular season champions, on 55.8 percent shooting.

“They were just better than we were,” coach Todd Starkey said. “They’re a really good basketball team, and there’s a reason why they went 19-1 in the league. We knew we were gonna need a little bit of help from them, and we knew we were gonna have to play at a high level. We played well at times, but certainly not well enough to [win].”

It was the second-most points KSU allowed all season and the highest opponent field-goal percentage of the year.

The Rockets had solid shooting all-around Monday, going 7-of-13 on three pointers and 14-of-18 on free throws.

Starkey noted that everything seemed to go Toledo’s way.

“They were shooting the ball well,” he said. “Even contested shots were going down. So, kudos to them. They’re on a mission. They’re a team that felt like they got snuffed from the NCAA tournament. You could tell they’re on a mission.”

Kent State’s defense was one of the best in the conference going into the tournament. It is second in the MAC in points allowed per game (61.8) and third in opponent field-goal percentage (39.4).

Toledo’s defense, however, is the best in the MAC. It is first in points allowed (60.1) and opponent field-goal percentage (36.9).

The Rockets’ defense was as advertised, holding KSU to 35.5 percent shooting from the field and limiting it to 7-of-24 on three pointers.

The Flashes jumped out to a 7-2 lead to start the game with the help of junior guard Katie Shumate’s three pointer.

Toledo came back to take a 14-11 lead, and Kent State would not lead again in the game.

The Rockets ended the first quarter ahead 22-18, and their defense shut down KSU’s offense in the second.

The Flashes were outscored 20-9 and held to a 33.3 field-goal percentage. Toledo’s 9-1 run to end the first half helped them head to the locker room with a double-digit lead.

Kent State started the third quarter down 42-27, and The Rockets stayed hot out of halftime, going on a 7-0 run to start the second half.

KSU slowly chipped away at the lead throughout the third and went on a 9-1 run to enter the final quarter down 57-47.

Starkey said the team “started to mix things up” to get back into the game.

“We were pressing a little bit more, kinda got them out of rhythm,” Starkey said. “We went with a smaller lineup and kinda spread them out a little bit. We were a little bit more aggressive, knocked down some threes and got to the free-throw line. Just got some momentum [going].”

Toledo killed any chance of a Flashes’ comeback with a dominant fourth quarter. All-MAC First Team Junior guard Quinnesha Lockett scored the first eight points of the final quarter, and a three-point bucket by senior guard Jayda Jansen put the Rockets up by 21 points with just over seven minutes left in the game.

Kent State had its worst shooting quarter of the game, only making 23.5 percent of its shots, while Toledo had its best, shooting 70 percent from the field.

Starkey said the Rockets started hitting threes in the fourth and the Flashes were scrambling.

“When you’re down, you have to take some risks,” Starkey said. “And the risks were paying off for a while. And then the risks caught up with us and gave them some open looks.”

Senior forward Lindsay Thall led the Flashes with 11 points. Shumate and junior forward Nila Blackford rounded out KSU’s double-digit scorers with 10 points each.

Lockett had a game-high 25 points and she scored 19 of those points in the second half.

Kent State was outrebounded 39-27 and only had eight assists to the Rockets’ 20.

The Flashes end the season with a 19-12 overall record. Toledo advances to the third round of the WNIT and is 28-5.

KSU is now 2-6 in WNIT games but has never advanced past the second round after winning first round games this season and in 2019.

Starkey said “trying to beat league champions on the road in back-to-back games is a lot.”

“We gave everything we had,” he said. “We just ran outta gas at the end, but they fought all the way to the end.”

Youngstown State tied for the Horizon League regular season title.

The loss ends the 2021-22 season that saw Kent State start the season 8-1 with wins over Power Five schools UCLA, which was No. 19 in the country at the time, and Penn State.

Starkey said that 19-12 is a “great” record.

“The expectations have changed because, in our first year, that would’ve been another miracle worker season,” he said. “So, it’s important to look at the kind of the six year run that we’ve had in totality as well. We probably had one of the, if not the, best non-conference seasons in school history.”

The Flashes lost six of its first eight MAC games before winning six-straight conference games. KSU went 2-4 to end the season and did not receive a spot in the MAC Tournament due to tiebreaker rules. Kent State did receive a bid to the WNIT where it beat Youngstown State in the first round.

Thall is eligible to return for a fifth-season which she has said she will be doing.

It was the last game for senior guard Mariah Modkins, who finishes her career with 289 points.

Starkey said he is going to miss coaching Modkins.

“Mariah is a player that has been doubted her whole career,” Starkey said. “She’s a player that people said wasn’t big enough or quick enough or whatever to do it. And she proved everybody wrong. I’m really proud to have been her coach. She came in and gave us everything she had.”

“She ended up being the starting point guard at five feet tall on a really good mid-major team. And that speaks to her toughness and what she was able to do.”

Starkey said he was proud of all the team overcame this season.

“With all the adversity that we faced through COVID and conference play, we could have given up three weeks ago, very easily,” he said. But they didn’t, they fought hard and beat Ohio. And then, we had the adversity  of not getting into the conference tournament and then we were waiting around and, and practicing and players gave me everything they had all the way to the end.”

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