By Greg Gulas
Youngstown State head coach John Barnes just couldn’t get himself to bring his women’s basketball team back together on Christmas Day.
He instead gave them an extra off day to spend with their families before resuming practice for the start of tghe Horizon League portion of the Penguins’ schedule.
That extra day of rest might just have been what Barnes’ team needed.
Nikki Arbanas scored 17 points, Sarah Cash and Chelsea Olson had 16 each and McKenah Peters added 11 as YSU beat Detroit 76-59 on Thursday night in the league opener for both teams at Beeghly Center.
The Penguins, who have led the league in 3-pointers per game the past four seasons (and five of the past seven), canned seven in the first half and 12 overall to set the tone early against the Titans.
YSU is averaging 9.3 3-pointers this season
“We were making some strides before the break, won two in a row and then you go on a break and wonder if you are going to lose it. Plus, I gave them that extra day at home, which was a little bit scary,” Barnes said.
“You want to have at least three days to prepare before a game, but I didn’t want to bring them back on Christmas. I wanted them to spend Christmas Day and night with their families. They came back and practiced really well on the 26th, which tells me they did their work at home. We then had another good practice yesterday and I think it showed today.”
The Penguins (5-7, 1-0 Horizon League) opened a 14-4 lead a little over five minutes into the game, courtesy of two triples from Arbanas and one each from Peters and Cash. They led 25-15 one quater.
Another triple from Arbanas — she was 5-of-6 on the night from beyond the arc — and four points from Olson helped YSU outscore the Titans (0-12, 0-1) 18-11 count in the second frame as they built a 43-26 lead at the intermission.
To Arbanas, who also added three steals, two assists and three caroms in 39 minutes of action, Detroit’s winless mark entering the game meant little in their preparation.
“Honestly, we saw the teams that they played this season and they had a really tough schedule, so we didn’t take anything for granted,” Arbanas said. “We won two games in a row, wanted to make it three and knew we had to get off to a good start. We were selective and patient on the offensive end and that got us going.”
With five 3-pointers in the game, Arbanas now has 170 for her career and is just three away from teammate Indiya Benjamin (173) and fourth place on YSU’s career list.
Olson’s second triple of the game just 44 seconds out of halftime helped YSU open a 46-28 margin, and when Peters followed with her second bucket from downtown 31 seconds later, the Penguins opened their largest lead of the game at 49-28.
Olson, a freshman, played a career high 38 minutes, was five of 10 from the field, three of five from beyond the arc and had a career-high six rebounds.
“It was a nice break, getting home and spending time with family but like Nikki said before, a break is a good time for us to just focus on basketball because school is out,” Olson said. “We come in, practice hard, go over what the opponent does and we’re good.”
YSU had 18 assists on its 25 baskets with nine coming from Benjamin.
Defensively, the Penguins held the Titans to just 3-of-24 shooting from long range.
“Getting this first league win was very important, especially from a confidence level,” Olson said. “Our perimeter defense is really important as well. That’s what we mainly focus on in practice, getting stops because ultimately defense wins games. Getting stops on defense will lead to easier shots on offense.”
A bucket by Brittney Jackson at 6:51 of the final period cut the YSU lead to 63-57, but that was the closest Detroit could get the rest of the way.
The Penguins are 3-0 on their current six-game home stand. They’ll host Oakland at 1 p.m. Saturday in another Horizon League matchup.
Zoey Oatis had a game-high 22 points and Brianne Cohen 14 for the Titans.