KENT: The Kent State women’s basketball team gave the University of Akron quite a scare last weekend but ultimately fell short in their upset bid 77-71.
After getting blown out 93-58 at Akron in the first meeting Jan. 13, five weeks later the last-place Flashes gave the first-place Zips.
But what didn’t show up in black and white on the stat sheet for the 3-24 Flashes (1-13 Mid-American Conference) was the kind of progress first-year coach Danielle O’Banion has been looking for throughout this season’s rebuilding effort — little, yet crucial things, she considers to be “signs of growth for our program.”
“The difference [between the first and second game against Akron] was our mentality,” O’Banion said. “Have we gotten better skill-wise? Yes. But mentally we’re a very different group of women.”
One big plus was listening to the players communicating with each other on the court, especially when on defense.
“There are some days in practices that we have to invite, encourage, beg for our team to talk to each other, to take care of each other out there,” O’Banion said. “We’re getting there. Our record doesn’t show it, but I’m seeing signs we’re all still plugged in and heading in the right direction together.
“This team is still getting better and that’s dangerous to teams like Miami and Buffalo at this time of year because [they look at our record and] they’re not worried about Kent State. That’s not a threat; it’s just an observation. The team you saw [Saturday] in the Kent State uniform is the team we’ve been waiting on.”
The reigning MAC men’s East Division Player of the Week from the past two weeks was having an off game.
Wednesday night against visiting Buffalo, senior guard/forward Chris Evans had just two points and one rebound after the first half of a game in which the Flashes trailed by nine points.
“The first half Chris didn’t play and had picked up [two] early fouls,” Senderoff said. “He got jumped at halftime and he responded well. Sometimes with him, he doesn’t always respond well to that, so there was growth there.”
Evans responded to the challenge by hitting the boards hard, including grabbing a key rebound with the overtime clock winding down then banking it in off the glass and into the net just as time expired.
“Chris Evans just was not going to give up the ball, that’s what it came down to,” Senderoff said. “Chris got the rebound, which allowed him to not have to pass it, and I’m glad he didn’t. It was a great individual play by him.”
Among the most versatile players in the nation, Evans leads Kent State in scoring (17.0 ppg), rebounding (7.6 rpg), steals (2.0 spg), and blocks (0.7 bpg). He is the only player in the nation with at least 100 field goals, 30 three-pointers, 100 free throws, 200 rebounds, 50 assists and 50 steals this season.
The biggest day of senior Brian Winters’ career had to be postponed last week when the Flashes left tackle and pro prospect strained a pectoral muscle while working out the day before the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
Winters later shared via text that he passed on doing lineman drills at the advice of his agent out of “precaution.” He also shared that he planned to now focus on working out for NFL scouts at KSU’s Pro Day next Wednesday, beginning at 9 a.m.
The women’s indoor team won its second consecutive MAC title last weekend with a league record-setting total of 175 points, shattering the previous high of 145 that was held by Ball State in 1996 and 2001.
Also for the second consecutive year, coach Bill Lawson was named the league’s Coach of the Year and junior and Akron-native Shanequa Williams was honored as the Women’s Most Valuable Performer.
Williams ran a school-record 23.89 in the 200-meter dash to defend her conference crown as well as winning the 400-meter dash (54.44) and anchoring the winning 1,600 meter relay race (3:44.35).
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.