Big lead, big scare, big win: YSU holds off Central Michigan


The Penguins won their fourth straight game.

By PETE MOLLICA

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

YOUNGSTOWN — There must be something about big leads that just doesn’t agree with the Youngstown State women’s basketball team.

Wednesday night the Penguins (4-3) jumped out to an 18-1 first half lead over Central Michigan, but in the end had to battle for their life to preserve a 66-58 victory, their fourth straight of the year.

“We certainly like to make things interesting,” said YSU coach Tisha Hill. “I don’t know what it is about those big leads.”

Senior Lauren Branson, not known for her scoring abilities, took over the show for the Penguins at the end. The 5-foot-6 guard had a game-high 20 points, including 15 in the second half, eight of them in the final eight minutes of play.

“She stepped up big tonight and really took over when we needed her,” said Hill.

The Penguins began second half play leading 36-23, but in the first five minutes they missed seven straight shots and found themselves with just a 36-34 lead after the Chippewas scored 11 straight points, including back-to-back 3-point goals by Britni Houghton and Latisha Luckett to end the run.

But the Penguins, who never trailed in the game, would let them get no closer as Branson took over.

She hit a 3-pointer and a basket to build the lead back up to nine points and the Penguins managed to head off the Chippewas every time they got close.

Central Michigan (3-5) cut the gap to three points with 3:51 remaining and then got as close as a single point 55-54 with 2:28 left on a 3-pointer by Candace Wilson, who led the Chippewas with 14 points.

But again it was Branson, hitting on a long 3-point shot and then junior Kelsey Gurganus added a basket with 50 seconds left for a 61-56 lead. The Penguins’ final five points all came at the foul line as the Chippewas were trying to get the ball.

The Penguins came out to open the game red hot jumping out to an 18-1 lead behind the hot hand of senior Heather Karner, who made her first three 3-point goals as the Penguins made four of their first five 3-pointers.

YSU then hit a cold spell. Leading 22-7 with 8:53 left in the half, the Penguins scored just one field goal over the next five minutes and the Chippewas managed to cut the lead to 24-16.

Central Michigan didn’t score a field goal until almost 11 minutes were left in the half but picked up the pace in the second 10 minutes and got to within eight points 26-18 with 2:37 remaining.

Leading 29-20 with 1:18 remaining the Penguins got break as Jessica Schloemp was fouled and it was ruled intentional which brought an outburst from Chippewas coach Sue Guevara who was hit with a technical foul.

Branson made both free throws and then Schloemp made one of two and on the inbounds pass Tiara Scott scored and the five-point play put the Penguins back in command 34-20. They led 36-23 at intermission.

Karner, who nine points in the first half, finished with just 13, while Schloemp added 10 rebounds to her nine points.

The Penguins will remain at home Saturday when they play host to Miami (Ohio) in a 2:05 tip off at Beeghly Center.

mollica@vindy.com

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