Last season, Kent State ‘s starters missed one game combined because of injury and illnesses.
This season, the Flashes starting five missed five games and lost a key bench player early in Mid-American Conference play.
“Last year we didn’t have to deal with injuries or illness a whole lot, and we were fortunate in that. This year, we had a lot to deal with,” coach Todd Starkey said. “At the same time, the game doesn’t respect that. The games are going to happen whether you have injuries and illnesses or not.”
Redshirt senior guard Megan Carter injured her thumb at the start of the season and missed time at the start of MAC play because of mononucleosis. Senior guard Ali Poole tore her ACL in January, which ended her season. Freshman forward Nila Blackford missed three games with a concussion in February.
Freshman guard Katie Shumate and sophomore guard Asiah Dingle’s minutes were limited in Saturday’s loss at Buffalo because of a sore knee and a sore foot, respectively.
“I think this team has by and large done a good job of facing the challenges we were in the midst of and competing on a fairly consistent basis,” Starkey said.
The Flashes (18-11, 11-7 MAC) are the East Division champions and No.3 seed in the tournament. They receive a first-round bye to the quarterfinals at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. They will take on No.6 Buffalo (18-11, 9-9 MAC) who beat No.11 Miami (11-20, 4-14 MAC) 87-72 in the first round at home.
Kent State lost both games against Buffalo by 13 in the first meeting and 14 in the second. Buffalo’s freshman guard Dyasiah Fair averages 21.5 points per game and 3.6 assists per game.
"Buffalo is just extremely aggressive and they have Dyasiah Fair,” Carter said. “They’re relentless, and they lead the league in offensive rebounds, so they just crash the boards.”
Kent State’s three freshmen, two of which are in the starting lineup, have never played in the MAC Tournament before.
“We’re telling them just to keep their poise,” sophomore forward Lindsey Thall said. “A lot of things can change during the game, so we’re just telling them to keep their cool throughout the game and stay calm.”
Starkey talked about the importance of having familiarity with a tournament like this.
“What we don’t have a lot of experience with our young basketball team is what the MAC Tournament looks like in playing up there,” Starkey said. “Most of our players have either played one game or no games up there. You can’t trade out experience, but it’s our job to try and prepare them for that environment.”
Kent State has some experience in tournament style play from earlier in the season.
“We’ve had some doubleheaders earlier this year, our back-to-back out in Las Vegas, which can prepare you for this,” Starkey said. “We’ve played in doubleheaders with the men’s program, which helps us prepare for what pregame looks like in following a game right before yours.”
The Flashes will play at 7:30 p.m., 30 minutes after the Ball State vs. Eastern Michigan game ends, Wednesday against Buffalo.
Kent State students can reserve a spot on student fan buses to Cleveland for the tournament games each day for $5 per game from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the M.A.C. Center.
Kathryn Rajnicek is a sports reporter. Contact her at email@example.com.