Your stats for the week: six games completed of the 12 initially scheduled, one replacement game to bring to total games completed figure up to seven, four no contest rulings, and two forfeits.
|Purdue Fort Wayne||9||9||–|
It’s hard to believe, but last weekend was the first time all season that Youngstown State’s schedule was impacted by COVID, as the Penguins’ planned trip to Wright State and Northern Kentucky was canceled, with YSU receiving a forfeit win from the Raiders. The Horizon League then put John Barnes and company together with their travel partner, Robert Morris – which had the same two games canceled, obviously – for a get-together on Saturday at the Beeghly Center. In a boxing match between (arguably) the two best defensive teams in the conference, the Guins prevailed 59-53 to climb to 14-1 overall and 8-0 in the league. Lilly Ritz (17 points, eight rebounds) and Chelsea Olson (15 points, nine assists, with several of the latter to Ritz) were their usual selves, while Megan Callahan added 12 points against her former team.
IUPUI did something quite impressive over the weekend, knocking off two very solid teams without Macee Williams for both games and Destiny Perkins for one of them. Thursday’s result against Green Bay was the more memorable of the two wins, as the Jaguars went 11:02 of game time between points over the second and third quarters to let the Phoenix go from seven down to four up. Austin Parkinson’s squad finished strong, however, with Anna Mortag’s buzzer beater supplying the final margin of a 51-49 game. The Milwaukee game followed a somewhat similar pattern, with the Panthers leading for a long stretch of the contest before IUPUI was the better team in crunch time. Rachel McLimore largely carried the load on Saturday with 22 of the team’s 63 points.
Northern Kentucky came down with COVID for the first time last week and while there’s never a great time for that to happen, the timing in this case was particularly unfortunate since it canceled a highly-anticipated contest between the Norse and Youngstown State (NKU received a no contest ruling for that game, along with Friday’s home contest against Robert Morris). Lindsey Duvall and company are scheduled to make their Michigan trip this week.
It seems kind of silly to say that it’s time to sound the alarm about Cleveland State when the team didn’t play last week, thanks to its second COVID outbreak of the season. The heavily-vaccinated Vikings received no contest determinations for their home games against Detroit Mercy and Oakland, but it’s hard to ignore the larger trend here: CSU started 8-0 (two of those coming via forfeit) before suffering their first COVID outbreak, which canceled a game at Akron. Cleveland State then came back from and rolled fill-in NAIA team Ohio Christian before losing three straight, the last of which (at Youngstown State) involved only eight available players on the visiting bench. What will happen after the second pause, on a road trip to Wisconsin that’s brutally tough even under the best of circumstances? We’ll see.
Green Bay has to feel like they missed a massive opportunity on Thursday when they faced a Williams-less IUPUI team and led by eight early in the fourth quarter before eventually falling on the aforementioned Mortag dagger. I do wonder, at least a little bit, if the fact that the Phoenix had played just once since December 12th – through no fault of their own, as UWGB is one of three Horizon League teams that has yet to go on a COVID pause – factored into things just a bit. Nevertheless, the Phoenix recovered to obliterate UIC two days later by a 75-38 count. Cassie Schiltz was fantastic in both games, totaling 28 points and 11 rebounds for the weekend, while adding three steals against the Flames.
There’s a certain point where, if you watch some unspecified number of games in your life – especially if you’re doing a job related to them – you can get a little cynical about things. Maybe it’s rooting against overtime when you’re on deadline, or maybe it’s just a general fatigue and wondering why you’re watching the latest forgone conclusion of a game instead of doing literally anything else. Then an Oakland comes along and wins a game with just six available players, and suddenly you’re a kid again and wishing you had a hoop in your driveway to blow off some extra energy after bouncing on the couch for a whole second half. The six Golden Grizzlies (Alona Blackwell, C’Erra Maholmes, Kayla Luchenbach, Kendall Folley, Breanne Beatty, and Sydney Gouard) were down 40-24 late in the first half at Purdue Fort Wayne and, for most of the evening, looked like they were destined for an honorable defeat. However Beatty’s third quarter buzzer beater pulled OU within five, then Blackwell took over with eight points in the final ten minutes (of her game-high 17) to help close out one of the season’s most unlikely results.
Each time I see Robert Morris, I’m more and more impressed with the Colonials, and really believe that they’re a touch more offensive firepower away from being a serious factor in the league race. RMU, as mentioned, had their scheduled games last week wiped out and replaced by a Saturday visit to Youngstown State. While the Penguins won, the interior tandem of Sol Castro and Ashya Klopfenstein combined for 23 points and 18 rebounds and was outstanding defensively. Meanwhile freshman Simone Morris, no slouch defensively herself, added 11 points including back-to-back fourth quarter threes to fuel the Colonials’ final push. However, Esther Castedo was largely taken out of the game by YSU’s lockdown perimeter defender, Mady Aulbach, and RMU couldn’t find enough additional production to pull off the upset. On the positive side of things, like YSU, the Colonials picked up a forfeit win from Wright State.
While dropping Milwaukee out of the top seven might raise some eyebrows, is it really that far off the map? After Youngstown State’s 8-0 conference record, the next eight teams are 4-2, 5-3, 3-2, 4-3, or 4-4. Forfeits do play into those records a bit, but nevertheless, there’s not a ton of separation between second and ninth, and someone has to fill each of those slots. While the Panthers do have an extremely impressive win over Northern Kentucky from early in the season, and yes, they did beat the team just ahead of them a month ago, they’ve been trending in the wrong direction for a while now. UWM has lost six of their last eight games contested on the court, and while two of the losses were Marquette and Northwestern, one of the wins came this past weekend and involved struggling to put away a bad UIC team. Purdue Fort Wayne and Cleveland State are scheduled to visit The K this week.
Purdue Fort Wayne very nearly had what possibly could have stood as the worst weekend of the year for anyone in the league, first blowing a big lead and dropping a game to that six-player Oakland team, then nearly giving Detroit Mercy its first win of the season on Saturday. In that latter contest, the Titans briefly led by ten in the last two minutes of the third quarter, then by eight with 8:44 to go, before the Mastodons came to life. Specifically Audra Emmerson, in a breakout performance, buried a trio of threes in less than two minutes of game time, the last of which gave PFW their first lead since early in the third quarter. Amellia Bromenschenkel and Aubrey Stupp then closed things out to snap the Dons’ ten-game losing streak (discounting a pair of forfeit wins).
Wright State was once again hit with COVID last week, and the majority-unvaccinated Raiders (as of mid-December) were forced to eat another pair of forfeits, for scheduled home games against Youngstown State and Robert Morris. WSU has now lost a total of seven games – over three distinct periods – due to positive tests on their end, with four of those entering the loss column. You can flip that one around to come up with this one: Wright State has played a grand total of three times since November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving.
Against the backdrop of rumors of their imminent departure to the Missouri Valley Conference, UIC dropped a pair of games to schools that were also a part of the 1994 mass exodus from the now-Summit League, Green Bay and Milwaukee. The Flames mostly hung in with UWM before being doomed by scoring drought at the worst possible time (the last 4:08 of the game after cutting the Panthers lead to two), but the bottom completely fell out two days later when Green Bay dogpiled the Flames. There aren’t a ton of bright spots in Chicago right now for a team that’s still extremely depth challenged and now just 2-9 overall, though freshman Ky Dempsey-Toney has continued to break out of late. In a season-high 29 minutes against Milwaukee, she put up 15 points, three rebounds, and a pair of blocks.
After a COVID cancellation against Cleveland State, Detroit Mercy fell to 0-14 overall with yet another excruciating defeat in a game they were at least in a position to win late, at Purdue Fort Wayne. In five of UDM’s 12 on-court losses this season (Youngstown State, Canisius, UIC, North Dakota and now PFW), the Titans have been tied or ahead at some point during the fourth quarter. To me, this is certainly a team that has been more competitive than its record, though it’s running out of opportunities against other teams towards the bottom of the standings.