In a season that has seen its fair share of ups and downs, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team finds itself in a weird spot in the Horizon League with nine games remaining in league play.
As it sits currently, YSU (8-13, 4-7 HL) is eighth place in the conference. There are only three games separating eighth place and third place. For the Penguins to fight its way closer to the top of the conference, there’s many small things to go its way that it has struggled with so far this year.
The biggest area of issue has been turnovers for the Penguins as it is turning the ball over 2.2 times per game more than its opponents. YSU turns the ball over 17.0 times per game while opponents are turning the ball over 14.8 times per game. In eight wins this year, YSU is turning the ball over 16.5 times per game while opponents are coughing up the ball 16.37 times on average. In losses, it gets much worse as the Penguins are turning the ball over 17.23 times while opponents only turn the ball over 13.76 times on average. That alone has killed the Penguins in many games this year.
Close loss against Northern Kentucky University
Coming off a win against a good Purdue-Fort Wayne squad, the Penguins were looking to take advantage of a struggling NKU team but could never find its rhythm in this game.
Despite leading 16-13 after the first quarter, the Penguins success didn’t last for long. At the 8:21 mark in the second quarter, NKU’s Khamari Mitchell-Steen got an and-1 opportunity and hit the free throw for a 21-20 Norse lead. The Norse would not relinquish the lead from that moment forward.
NKU won the second quarter, 21-9, and led at halftime by a score of 34-25. The third quarter was YSU’s best with 19 points on 50 percent shooting. Unfortunately, the Penguins defense took a step down and gave up 23 points on 50 percent shooting including a 13-3 run midway through the quarter that put the game very much out of reach.
“We have to have multiple people in double figures. We had 17 turnovers tonight so that’s something else that we struggled with,” guard Dena Jarrells said. “You’re turning the ball over, and then you go on the other end and you’re not getting stops. We need to be even out like last game. We need to be able to do that day-in and day-out.”
The Penguins gave up just five points in the fourth quarter but couldn’t get over the hump of playing from behind as it fell, 62-56. Emily Saunders finished with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting with seven rebounds, and three blocks. Dena Jarrells ended with 15 points, six rebounds, and four assists.
Again it was turnovers that buried the Penguins. More specifically, it was what each team was able to do with those turnovers. YSU turned the ball over 17 times which resulted in 21 points for the Norse. NKU turned the ball over 16 times but YSU could only muster six points off of them.
Dominating Robert Morris University
After a tough loss at the hands of NKU, the Penguins were able to dominate the Colonials (6-15, 2-10 HL) from start to finish at home.
Having never trailed in this game, YSU especially dominated the paint where it outscored RMU, 38-16, despite being outrebounded, 32-29.
It was Saunders who led the Penguins again with 23 points, five rebounds, four blocks, and two steals to lead the way.
“Getting them in early foul trouble really helped,” Saunders said. “Also, my teammates see me. I’m always going to say that. They see me and were getting me the ball when I was open. We played really good inside-out basketball and that really, really helped.”
YSU finished with 21 assists of 27 made shots with Mady Aulbach, Dena Jarrells, and Haley Thierry all leading it with four assists each.
Again, turnovers told a huge part of the story for YSU as it only gave the ball up 12 times compared to RMU’s 22. The Penguins doubled the Colonials scoring off turnovers, 30-15.
“We had looked at doing some stuff back in October/November that we could possibly have in our back pocket. At this point, there’s not a lot of games left so we wanted to try to jump out and create a little bit of pressure to make them uncomfortable,” YSU Interim Head Coach John Nicolais said. “With the amount of games we have left, let’s just be aggressive from the get-go.”
The 71-46 victory has now put YSU in a spot where it has to get some huge wins down the stretch to have a real shot at winning the conference tournament by getting better seeding.
First on this week’s schedule is a road matchup against IUPUI (4-15, 2-10 HL) on Jan. 31. In the first matchup at home, YSU narrowly escaped with a 58-56 win. The Penguins did just enough to win that game as Shay-Lee Kirby buried two clutch free throws with just one second remaining to win the game.
On Feb. 3, YSU will host Wisconsin-Milwaukee as it tries to split the season series after falling on the road. Back on Jan. 13, YSU took a first quarter lead, and even had a slim lead at halftime. It was a dismal third quarter where the Panthers (12-10, 6-5 HL) outscored the Penguins, 22-7, that essentially buried YSU. The Penguins shot just 14 percent while the Panthers hit on 57 percent of its shots in the third quarter which was more than enough to win that game. YSU has to be able to bring good energy from start to finish in order to tie the season series with Milwaukee.
“I felt pretty good with the last game against RMU. The ball found its way inside and it found its way back out. Malia (Magestro) had several threes in that game. The looks are starting to get better. We’d like to think that we’re trending in the right direction that we want to go,” Nicolais said.