By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
To legitimize the up-tick Kent State's women's basketball program seemed to be on this season, the team needed a winning streak.
The Golden Flashes had not captured two victories in a row since January of 2012 until Wednesday, when they earned their second straight triumph and matched last year's win total by dismantling Niagara (1-5) 69-46 in game one of a women's-men's hoops doubleheader at the M.A.C. Center.
The Flashes (3-5) opened up an insurmountable 40-15 halftime lead and wound up winning by their largest margin since defeating Youngstown State 77-39 in Dec. of 2010. But most importantly, Kent State's players and coaches now have a winning streak under their belt -- and a monkey off their backs.
"I think it's big for our players. There's no question," said second-year KSU coach Danielle O'Banion. "From a coaching standpoint, we have a little bit different perspective. We understand that getting better takes time, and we understand where we are in the process. From a player's perspective, it's hard to feel encouraged without a couple wins stacking up.
"So I'm just real excited for our players to have gone out and earned their second win in a row. Now the trick is learning how to do it night in and night out."
It took Kent State a bit of time to figure out the Purple Eagles, but once it did, the rout was on.
The Flashes led just 14-13 with 11:18 left in the first half, but closed with an incredible 26-2 run.
Senior guards Ashley Evans and Amber Dunlap scored 10 points each in the first half and ignited the flurry -- Dunlap with an assist, 3-pointer and a rebound at the beginning of the run and Evans with back-to-back jumpers that made it a 10-point game.
"We were very excited to get out to a strong start tonight," said O'Banion. "I thought Amber and Ashley did an outstanding job of playing like senior guards and that was big for us. Amber and Ashley took advantage of the way Niagara was defending us. They were aggressive from the start and set a strong tone for us."
Niagara closed to within 14 at 51-37 with 9:35 to go, but the Flashes scored the next nine points to end all doubt.
"We ran into a good problem tonight. We had to learn a little bit how to play with a lead for the first time this year," said O'Banion. "That was exciting and a sign of growth."
Evans wound up with a team-leading 15 points, while junior forward Montia Johnson recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards. Junior center CiCi Shannon contributed just five points, but grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots, while Dunlap and senior forward Cheylene Harper added 10 points each.
Kent State grabbed a season-high 46 rebounds and committed a season-low nine turnovers, 12 less than its season average, while holding Niagara to 33 percent shooting from the field (18-of-54).
The Flashes will seek its their straight win on Sunday at noon, when they host Georgia State (3-6).
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier