By John Kovach
YOUNGSTOWN — The outmanned and struggling Youngstown State women’s basketball team enjoyed some bright spots against Wisconsin-Milwaukee Saturday in the Horizon League opener for both teams at Beeghly Center on Rosselli Court.
Despite dressing only seven players, the Penguins managed to build an early lead (23-18) and battled the Panthers to a 25-25 halftime standoff.
And then after falling behind by 14 points (64-50), YSU refused to give up and staged a late comeback to pull within five points (64-59) with about a minute left.
But Wisconsin-Milwaukee braced after the late assault, and got two foul shots from Ashley Imperiale and a free throw and goal from Jodie McClain to streak away to a 68-59 victory that stretched the Penguins’ winless streak to 12 games.
“I think we really came out flat in the second half. We started slow and I think that hurt us,” said Brandi Brown, YSU’s talented 5-9 freshman forward who led the Penguins with 18 points and 15 rebounds, plus a team-high five steals.
Brown said she didn’t think the team was hampered by having only seven players, but that instead, “Mentally we were out of it at times, and mentally we have to push through that.”
Bojana Dimitrov added 14 points and Rachael Manuel 11 with eight rebounds to aid YSU (0-12, 0-1).
But the Penguins had a tough time finding the basket, making only 24-for-74 from the field, including 2-for-19 from 3-point land, although managing to lead in rebounds (43-37).
Imperiale finished with 16 points to lead Wisconsin-Milwaukee (6-6, 1-0 HL), while Danielle Jorgenson added 14 and Lindsay Laur and Jenliee Klomstad 10 apiece, and Klomstad also getting eight rebounds.
Second-year coach Cindy Martin of YSU, like Brown, also didn’t believe having only seven players adversely affected the team, but instead blamed two other factors.
“We came out flat [in the second half] and we need more intensity, and when we take the lead we have to stay aggressive,” said Martin. But, “We won almost every hustle play with the exception of two that I can think of.”
Martin didn’t think that the Penguins, with only two subs, tired down the stretch.
“It was a great comeback but we just couldn’t get past the hump,” said Martin.
YSU originally had a full roster of 15 players after signing day last April, before the team was thinned out for various reasons.
First, two highly-regarded players decided to leave, and then two transfers did not qualify academically. Plus, another player got homesick and left school, two more players hurt their knees and are sidelined, and another player who signed late suffered a back injury and also is sidelined, leaving only eight players on the roster as of last week.
“We had only eight players going into [this week] and [then] we lost Kaitlyn March. We didn’t have her all week. We practiced without her,” said Martin, who heaped praise on Brown.
“Brown is a great recruit and we did a great job of recruiting [players] last year,” said Martin. “Brandi is one of the best rebounders I’ve seen.”
Fueling the Penguins’ rally were Maryum Jenkins, Manuel and Dimitrov, accounting for nine unanswered points to pull YSU within 64-59. Jenkins had all five of her points during that span, including a 3-point goal.
YSU will be home again Monday against Green Bay at 7:05 p.m. in another Horizon League game.