|Purdue Fort Wayne||6||6||–|
Despite a much closer than expected, low-scoring game at Detroit Mercy on Friday, the wheels kept spinning for Green Bay, who swept the Titans and then Oakland on Sunday to improve to 19-4 overall after starting the season 3-3. Sydney Levy, who has probably been Kevin Borseth’s most consistent player on a somewhat injury-plagued roster (not to mention whatever happened with Hailey Oskey), connected for four three-pointers and 14 points against the Grizzlies. Prior to that, she fired home 17 against UDM to stand as the Phoenix’s only player in double figures during the slog at Calihan Hall. It’s tough, if not impossible, to handicap the race between Green Bay and Cleveland State right now. Both teams are 12-2 in conference play, though UWGB (who won the first meeting of the season, of course) still has to travel to a tough environment at Youngstown State before hosting the Vikings on the 23rd, a meeting that may end up as a de facto championship game.
If there were creeping doubts about Cleveland State following three straight somewhat-lackluster weeks, the Vikings emphatically vanquished them with an 81-48 thrashing of Youngstown State on Saturday. In some ways, it was even more impressive than the 33-point margin over a rival and a fellow conference title contender as the Vikings completely buried YSU’s two strongest weapons, including their three-point shooting (4-for-32) and Lilly Ritz (six points, seven rebounds, tons of foul trouble), while putting up 81 points on a good defensive team. Ritz’s counterpart, Amele Ngwafang, was the best player on the floor with 21 points and 15 rebounds, and she was the one most directly responsible for the foul trouble to Ritz and her backup, Emily Saunders. Destiny Leo scored 30 points on Thursday against Robert Morris and was a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line against YSU to improve to 94.3 percent on the season, third-best in the nation.
There’s no other way to put it: Youngstown State had an awful week. Even before the soul-crushing nature of their ill-fated trip to the Wolstein Center, the Penguins were shocked on Thursday by Purdue Fort Wayne after Shayla Sellers scored with 22 seconds left, then came back to get a piece of Ritz’s attempted equalizer at the buzzer. Megan Callahan was outstanding in the contest with 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including a cold-blooded deep three with 1:12 left that, momentarily at least, seemed like a pivotal play in the Guins’ late comeback attempt. Despite the losses, YSU is probably still the third-best team in the conference – though they’re now two games behind both CSU and Green Bay in the standings with just six to play, making a repeat of their 2021-22 regular season title seem unlikely at the moment.
After being shocked by Wright State on Thursday, Northern Kentucky held off a second-half IUPUI rally and bounced back with a crucial win over at Truist Arena on Monday night. Functionally speaking, the victory sort of restores the standings separation between the Norse and teams like Purdue Fort Wayne, Oakland and Milwaukee that had significantly eroded over the last couple weeks and keeps NKU in good position to chase down, at worst, a first-round bye in the conference tournament (they’re presently two games behind third-place Youngstown State, but that might be an ambitious ask at this point). Lindsey Duvall (24 points, 12 rebounds) and Kailee Davis (19 points) were both firing against the Jags, a condition that increasingly seems necessary for team success – the duo was held to a combined 19 points against Wright State and even good games from Ivy Turner and Khamari Mitchell-Steen weren’t enough to overcome the deficit.
IUPUI faltered in that game at NKU, a missed opportunity for the Jaguars to tie YSU for third and establish a new tier of expectations in what’s already been a pleasantly-surprising first season for Kate Bruce. The good news is that they remain a game ahead of the Norse for fourth in the standings, a crucial distinction given that fifth place visits fourth place in a conference tournament quarterfinal. On Monday night, the Jags trailed by as many as 18 points late in the first half and briefly rallied to within three in the fourth quarter, but faded down the stretch. Destiny Perkins led the way with 23 points in the game, though it wasn’t enough to offset a rough evening for Jazmyn Turner, who was limited to 11 minutes thanks to foul trouble. Perkins had 26 of IUPUI’s 93 in a defeat of Wright State on Saturday and certainly would’ve had an outstanding Player of the Week case if not for the Jags’ wonky travel-partner-free schedule that often has them wrapping up their week after the award is handed out.
Without a doubt, Purdue Fort Wayne’s stunner against Youngstown State was the Mastodons’ best victory since joining the Horizon League in 2020. Sellers, who has been on a tear lately, bucketed 19 points in the game, including the winning two, along with that saving defensive play. Meanwhile, Jazzlyn Linbo was also outstanding in holding her own against YSU’s formidable post players, contributing 14 points and three blocks before fouling out – arguably the single biggest key to the game, given the mismatched frontcourt depth between the teams. However, typical of a program still learning how to win, PFW suffered a letdown two days later against Robert Morris despite 16 Ryin Ott points. The Dons have a pretty tough closing schedule, one that doesn’t offer a ton of swipes at the teams in their area of the standings, so they may come to regret not taking care of business against RMU by the time the conference tournament seeding is finalized.
Before taking an expected loss against Green Bay on Sunday, Oakland finally got back on track on Friday by beating Milwaukee in what was really a fantastic team effort: Brianne Beatty, Brooke Quarles-Daniels, Kennedie Montue and Alexis Johnson all had between 12 and 16 points. Quarles-Daniels also added nine rebounds and six assists (fun fact: the 5-foot-6 freshman has 6.0 rebounds per conference game, 11th in the Horizon League among all players). OU plays at Youngstown State (a team they’ve competed extremely well with over the last couple years) on Thursday, but after that is completely done with the conference’s ostensible big three, as the Grizzlies close with Robert Morris, IUPUI, Detroit Mercy, Wright State and Northern Kentucky. If there’s one thing last week proved, it’s that you can’t assume in the HL, but that nevertheless seems like a useful edge among the four teams competing for fifth place and the final first-round bye in the tournament.
Purdue Fort Wayne wasn’t the only team to pull off a massive upset on Thursday, as Wright State delivered the program’s biggest result since the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament in their win over Northern Kentucky. Though that outcome might have arrived out of nowhere on some level, it’s really been building for several weeks now, arguably dating back to a game against Green Bay on January 5th where the Raiders were surprisingly competitive until the late going. They finally picked up their first DI win at Detroit Mercy a week later, then were close against Oakland, put up 72 points on Cleveland State, and flattened Robert Morris before the fairly-decisive result against a talented NKU team. With the bomb squad of Emily Chapman, Bryce Nixon, Cara VanKempen, Kacee Baumhower, Channing Chappell, and conference Freshman of the Week Lauren Scott finally clicking, WSU is one of those teams that everyone wants to avoid come tournament time.
There have been lots of signs of improvement for Milwaukee that have often flashed off and on during the year but it’s looking more and more like, at least for 2022-23, the Panthers are still going to be a work in progress into the offseason. Though they’ve only lost by more than ten points to Cleveland State and Green Bay, UWM has also only defeated Wright State, Robert Morris and Detroit Mercy since New Year’s Day and always seems to be just short of the glut of teams above them. On the bright side, Jada Donaldson had the best game of her career on Sunday against Detroit Mercy with 16 points and four rebounds, and if you remove perception of the opponent from the equation, the Panthers put together a gritty come-from-behind win on the road without one of their best players, Emma Wittmershaus (who missed that contest, as well as the loss to Oakland on Friday).
Robert Morris caught Purdue Fort Wayne in a post-upset letdown on Saturday to snap a five-game losing streak behind 23 points and 11 rebounds by Phoenix Gedeon, though the Colonials are still just 3-13 in their last 16 games and 3-11 in the Horizon League. RMU has been gutted by injuries and departures and has been rolling with just seven active players, while struggling to generate any sort of offense whatsoever. They’re 358th (out of 361) nationally in field goal percentage, 331st in points per game, and even verified snipers like Mackenzie Amalia have struggled shooting the ball under an increased workload and little else for opposing defenses to consider. Gedeon is having an all-conference-worthy season and Simone Morris is pretty underrated as well (the latter played very well at Cleveland State on Thursday), but Charlie Buscaglia desperately needs to find a few warm bodies for next season – though the good news is that the projected return of Sol Castro could be an important one.
As bonkers as this may sound, 3-20 Detroit Mercy can equal the program’s best win total of the last six years with one more victory, and they just so happen to be playing struggling Robert Morris on Thursday, a team the TItans defeated on January 7th. That’s more a commentary on the state of the program in recent history than anything profound that’s happened in Calihan Hall this season, but it’s still worth noting that UDM stayed within single digits of Green Bay on Friday, before dropping a game to Milwaukee on Sunday after leading most of the way and misfiring on two chances to tie things up in the final 90 seconds. It’s a program that appears to be making slow progress towards respectability, and you can see that when the Titans hold a fantastic Phoenix team to 56 points, or in Emma Trawally Porta’s 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocks against UWM. Sure, all of that came one week after losing to Cleveland State and Purdue Fort Wayne by 42 and 24, but hey, inconsistency is part of the package at this point.
Player of the Week
Amele Ngwafang (Cleveland State)
If you saw the game she had going bone-on-bone with a leading HL Player of the Year contender, you already know.
Also considered: Destiny Leo (Cleveland State), Destiny Perkins (IUPUI), Shayla Sellers (Purdue Fort Wayne), Sydney Levy (Green Bay), Phoenix Gedeon (Robert Morris)
November 14: Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne)
November 21: Lindsey Duvall (Northern Kentucky)
November 28: Destiny Leo (Cleveland State)
December 5: Malia Magestro (Youngstown State)
December 12: Brittni Moore (Cleveland State)
December 19: Sydney Levy (Green Bay)
December 26: Rachel Kent (IUPUI)
January 2: Lindsey Duvall (Northern Kentucky)
January 9: Amele Ngwafang (Cleveland State)
January 16: Brooke Quarles-Daniels (Oakland)
January 23: Lilly Ritz (Youngstown State)
January 30: Amellia Bromenschenkel (Purdue Fort Wayne)