Penguins get early start for a bonus contest


By Brian Dzenis

bdzenis@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

There’s no coffee for John Barnes, but there is a tournament to prepare for.

Since Tuesday at 5:45 a.m., Youngstown State’s women’s basketball coach has been putting a game plan together for tonight’s opening round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational.

Monday at 9 p.m., the Penguins learned they were selected for the 16-team tournament roughly two hours before the bracket went public around 11 p.m.

The Penguins will host Binghamton today at 7 p.m. in Beeghly Center.

“I don’t drink coffee, but I went to bed early just to get up early and get ready for practice,” Barnes said of the tournament turnaround.

This year marks the second time in three seasons that YSU has made the WBI. In the Penguins’ last go-around in 2016, they won two games at home before losing on the road to eventual-champion Louisiana at Lafayette.

“It was fun two years ago,” Penguins guard Nikki Arbanas said. “[We were] able to play against different teams in the atmosphere of still going for a championship.”

Although there are no official seeds in the WBI, YSU (16-15, 11-7 Horizon League) is considered to be the third best team in the field based on RPI.

The only two teams ahead of the Penguins’ RPI of 139 is potential second-round opponent Yale (126) and Central Arkansas (123).

Per WBI rules, unless teams decline to host a game, the team with the better RPI plays at home.

YSU will pay a $10,000 guarantee for today’s game and will have to pay that again if they host a second-round game. The university will keep all revenue from any games it hosts.

Binghamton (19-11, 10-6 America East) comes to Youngstown on a three-game losing streak, with the most recent defeat being a 72-68 setback to Hartford in the America East quarterfinals.

Senior Imani Watkins was the league’s leading scorer at 20.2 points per game.

“I’ve watched a lot of her since last night. She’s a heck of a player. She’s a lefty, which can give people a lot of problems,” Barnes said, “Not only can she shoot from deep, she’s very good off the dribble and off ball screen situations. She attacks the basket. She can pull up or step back.

“She’s going to be a challenge, but we’ve played against players like her throughout the season,” Barnes said. “Hopefully we do a good job on her.”

Since losing in the Horizon League Tournament semifinals to Green Bay last Monday, the Penguins took a day off before getting back to practice in anticipation of a postseason bid. They practiced Wednesday and Thursday, before dismissing the team until Sunday night.

“They’ve had some time off and and they’re legs look great — especially [Sarah Cash and Arbanas] coming back from the ACL [injuries],” Barnes said. “The grind of the season can be tough on them, but them having extra time off has given a hop in their step.”

“It’s always been a big deal for us,” Arbanas said. “It’s extra experience for the younger players and it’s an opportunity to win a championship.

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