YSU women playing best basketball at right time

Youngstown State women's basketball is starting to click at the perfect time of year. With two tough games ahead, the Penguins will be put to the test.

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Malia Magestro (#2) puts up a corner three in front of her bench in a win over Milwaukee on Feb. 3. (Photo via YSU Athletics/Erik Vargo)

It’s happening and it couldn’t be happening at a better time. Are you wondering what’s happening?

The Youngstown State University women’s basketball is starting to click on all cylinders and with just five games left, it couldn’t be happening any sooner. Winners of three straight and four of the last five, the Penguins (11-14, 7-8 Horizon League) are starting to figure out the post-John Barnes era and it couldn’t be at a better time.

Second half surge against Milwaukee

It all started with a home win against Milwaukee (14-12, 8-7 HL) back on February 3rd. With a very slim deficit at halftime, YSU outscored Milwaukee, 38-29, en route to a 73-66 win.

The Penguins pulled off the win after falling on the road to the Panthers back on January 13th. This now ties the season series with Milwaukee.

The turning point in this one was the start of the third quarter as the Penguins started the first five minutes on a 9-2 run. Despite the fact that the Panthers did eventually take a short lead early in the fourth quarter, it felt as if it was playing from behind all second half. One more run at the 3:20 mark of the fourth was the nail in the coffin. At the 3:20 mark, Milwaukee’s Grace Crowley hit a layup to tie the game at 66. YSU would end the game on a 7-0 run as Milwaukee missed its last five attempts of the game. 

In both games, Malia Magestro led the way. In the most recent affair, she had a season-high 23 points on a very efficient 8-of-14 shooting. Haley Thierry finished with 13 points.

“We kept their leading scorers from last time we played them to low points. We didn’t let No. 23 (Kamy Peppler) score. She killed us last game. We really knew our scout this time. I think that really showed and our offense did really today,” Magestro said. “A lot of times we take the first shot but today, we took the good shot.”

Emily Saunders secured her second double-double of the year with ten points, and ten rebounds. She also recorded 14th multi-block game of the season with two.

On the Milwaukee side, Peppler was held to 0 points on 0-of-4 shooting. If you remember, she was lights out from three and put up 24 points in the first matchup of the year. Kendall Nead led the Panthers with 18 points.

Turnovers, or the lack of, are what kept YSU in this one. With just 10 turnovers to Milwaukee’s 16, YSU took advantage scoring 17 points off of them.

Sweeping the Michigan road trip

Paint dominance at Oakland

First up was the Oakland Golden Grizzlies on February 8th. In what became a tightly-contested game, the Penguins were able to sneak out of Athletics Center O’Rena with a 85-79 win that kept the momentum going.

Oakland (10-13, 6-9 HL) has done no differently all year than YSU by having no consecutive conference wins all year but still hanging around.

The game started with a Penguins’ 6-0 run that quickly was answered by a Grizzlies 7-2 run. YSU led by as many as ten in the first half and carried a slim 42-36 lead.

With 1:07 remaining in the third, Oakland took its first lead of the game, 57-56, on a Maddy Skorupski three-pointer that capped off a 9-2 run. Thirteen seconds later, YSU retook the lead on a Dena Jarrells jumper and never relinquished the lead again.

It was a full effort with YSU with Shay-Lee Kirby leading the way with a season-high 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting including five made threes. She also had six rebounds, and four assists with that scoring mark. All five starters scored in double digits as Jarrells finished with 19, Magestro had 18, and both Thierry and Saunders ended with 10 each.

YSU overcame 19 turnovers by outscoring Oakland in the paint, 46-30, by shooting nearly 64 percent from inside the three-point line.

This win now gives YSU the season sweep over Oakland and the advantage come tournament time.

Slobberknocker at Detroit

For everything the men haven’t been this season, the University of Detroit Mercy women more than make up for the lack of effort from the men.

UDM (15-11, 8-7 HL) made YSU uncomfortable at many times but it continued to find a way to win this game. The Penguins did just enough to come out with a win over a feisty Titans squad.

In the 54-49 win, YSU held UDM to two single-digit scoring quarters with six points in the first and eight points in the third. Those two quarters were enough as YSU outscored Detroit, 21-14, in those quarters to seal a win. Despite UDM getting the game to within three points twice, it couldn’t get a stop when needed as YSU hit buckets almost right after both times in the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t pretty but the Penguins did what was needed. Three-point shooting was the difference as YSU made seven to UDM’s two.

Three Penguins landed in double figures with Jarells with 12, Magestro with 11, and Kirby with 11.

“That was a really, really fun trip. Oakland and Detroit are two really good teams so to get those wins on the road was really fun. It shows the trend we’re on right now,” Mady Aulbach said. “Everything is kind of coming together right now. Hopefully, the pieces keep coming together and we play our best basketball toward the end of February.

LOOKING AHEAD

The Penguins first travel across the state of Ohio to take on Wright State University on Feb. 14. In the first matchup, YSU turned the ball over a staggering 22 times. The Penguins couldn’t contain the Raiders’ Alexis Hutchison as she exploded for 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting and perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line.

YSU needs to keep the Raiders (15-11, 9-6 HL) off the free throw line and not turn the ball over as frequently as it did in the first matchup at home. Those two things along could flip the 82-68 loss it took back on Dec. 29, 2023 to win in this one.

After that game, YSU comes home to face off against Green Bay. The Phoenix (19-5, 12-2 HL) are currently tied for first in the league with Cleveland State.

The Penguins will need to do nothing that it did in the first game to win this one. The Penguins got basically laughed out of the building in a 85-47 road loss. That loss came after getting boat-raced by Cleveland State five days prior. The Penguins seem to be in a much better head space than it was back in early January.

The Penguins will need to control the tempo early and often to give itself a shot at winning this game. The tempo got away from YSU fast and it couldn’t recover a month ago. YSU didn’t turn the ball over much with only nine of them but that didn’t matter as GB shot 56 percent and 47 percent from three. Only Thierry and Abby Liber scored double figures with 10 each. No starter scored more than six.

“We would like for that to happen,” YSU interim head coach John Nicolais said on the prospect of getting a first round conference game. “We’re going to have to keep playing at a high level and get wins. We’re probably going to have to have some help. We want to be playing our best basketball in late February/early March anyway.”

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