Women’s basketball defeats Northern Illinois in MAC tournament opening match

Kyle Kuchta, Reporter

The Kent State women’s basketball team defeated the Northern Illinois Huskies 75-68, advancing to the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament.

With the win Wednesday afternoon, Kent State pushed its record to 20-1 when its opponent scores under 70 points, and the Flashes are now 2-1 versus the Huskies in tournament play. 

“I’m really excited about our effort, we didn’t want to make too much of a big deal about trying to play a game against a team that we just beat four days ago — that’s tough to do especially against a team that is high quality,” coach Todd Starkey said. “That Northern Illinois team beat the top three teams in our league. That is something that we have not done. Really proud of our team from start to finish and great effort defensively.”

The Flashes started the game putting up 22 points in the opening quarter while scoring nine points in the first five minutes. Senior guard Clare Kelly, graduate student forward Lindsey Thall and senior guard Katie Shumate all made three’s to start the game.

With 3:36 left to play in the first quarter, KSU shot 50% from beyond the arc, finishing out the quarter at 55% while converting eight 8-of-18 from the field. 

NIU struggled in the first quarter, shooting 30% from the floor. The Huskies had tallied just 10 points.

Over the next four minutes in the second quarter, Kent State collected six points off of two 3-pointers converted by Shumate. 

Shumate was 4-of-6 from 3 point range and 5-of-12 from the floor with 2:42 left to play in the half, and she had 15 points with seven rebounds. Thall and junior guard Casey Santoro each had five points. Thall had three rebounds.

“When Katie Shumate plays that aggressive from the start of the game it really lifts the whole team. She’s been doing that for about almost two months now,” Starkey said. “They’re playing as good as basketball as I’ve seen in four years.”

Kent State took its largest lead at 5:43 in the second quarter off a three pointer from Santoro, making the score 31-17 in the second quarter.

Northern Illinois cut the lead to eight with 3:05 left to play, and with 2:43 left, NIU was 2-of-5 from three, outscoring the Flashes 13-9.

Graduate student guard Hannah Young closed out the half with two free throws. KSU headed to the locker room with a lead 38-25.  

KSU and NIU shot evenly from the floor in the second quarter going 5-of-14 as KSU outscored the Huskies 16-15. 

In the first half, KSU shot 40% from the field and 50% from three. The Flashes had nine assists on 13 baskets. 

Kelly was was 4-of-4 from the floor and perfect from three, converting on all three shots. 

NIU shot 40% from three and 75% from the line. Leading scorer senior forward A’Jah Davis was only held to 10 points. 

Kent State opened the second half missing its first three opening shots as NIU went on a 5-0 run, cutting the lead to eight four minutes into the third quarter. 

KSU increased its lead to 13 points with 2:23 left before heading into the fourth quarter as Kent State closed out the third 51-43.

Davis continued to score inside the paint, leading her team in points with 18.  Thall and the rest of the team struggled to defend the paint as NIU scored 40 points from the paint. 

“It’s something you just got to mentally prepare for because she’s (Davis) going to make tough shots no matter what you do on defense,” Thall said. “If she scores, you have to forget about it and come back down the next time and guard her as hard as you can. Kudos to her because she still had a lot of points.”

NIU shot just under 50% in the third quarter but converted 1-of-5 shots from three. 

NIU cut KSU’s lead down to five with eight minutes left in regulation off a jumper made by senior guard Chelby Koker. The score was 54-49. 

Starkey kept his team composed as NIU started coming back into the game.

“’We’re fine. We knew that Northern Illinois is a good team, anybody you play this time of year is good. Good teams are going to make runs and how you handle that and how you answer that is the most important thing,’” Starkey said. “I usually don’t like to call timeouts in situations like that, I like the players to figure it out themselves especially when you have experience on the court.”

At the five minute mark in the fourth quarter, Kelly recorded her first miss of the game. She finished with 16 points shooting 4-of-5 from three and 6-of-7 from the floor. 

Over the next five minutes, KSU increased its lead to eight before Marable cut it down to five points again when she hit a three with 3:07 left in the final quarter . 

Santoro converted on a couple of free throws with under a minute to go as the junior guard made it a 12-point game with 39 seconds left. 

Shumate secured the victory, converting on one of two free throws with 0:16 left. 

Four players for the Flashes finished in double-digit points, and Shumate yet again recorded a double-double, leading the team in points with 20 and 12 rebounds. 

Thall shot just under 50% scoring on 7-of-15 for 16 points. Santoro finished with 12 points. The Flashes converted 15 assists on 26 baskets as a team. 

“I think we’re hard to guard because really anybody could have a career night on any given day, and I think that we all play really well together,” Thall said. “If somebody’s not feeling it, somebody else is so I think that’s something special to have going into postseason play.” 

NIU’s Davis finished with a double-double, totaling 26 points and 12 rebounds and shooting 11-of-17 from the floor. Marable finished second on her team in points with 20, shooting evenly at 50% from the floor and from deep. 

Round Two 

Kent State will play No. 1 seed Toledo in the semifinal game this Friday. Kent State has lost twice to Toledo during the regular season. 

Toledo defeated Buffalo in overtime in the early game Wednesday. 

Tip off is at 10 a.m. Friday back at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

Kyle Kuchta is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]