YSU bounced out in WBI’s first round
By Brian Dzenis
Youngstown State’s season finale had a familiar touch to it.
The Penguin women’s basketball team saw its season come to a close with a 70-59 defeat to Binghamton in the opening round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational. As was the case a good amount of their losses, one bad stretch negated a quality start.
“I think the turning point was when they pressed us in the end of that second quarter. We turned it over a few times and they took the lead after we had a big lead,” YSU coach John Barnes said. “I thought we had a lot of good shots in the second half — wide-open threes in the fourth quarter that just didn’t go in.
“We weren’t able to keep it close to have a chance to win in the end.”
YSU nursed a double-digit lead for most of the first half, but Binghamton got hot in the final three and a half minutes. YSU’s lead was as high as 13 points. The Bearcats scored 12 unanswered points to take 34-33 lead in the final minute. Nikki Arbanas drained a three as time expired to give her team a two-point advantage at the break.
The Penguins got their lead back up by as much as four points in the third quarter, but it didn’t last under the Bearcats’ assault.
Binghamton’s Imani Watkins lived up to her billing as the America East’s leading scorer. She led the Bearcats with 27 points.
“[Watkins] was unbelievable. We did everything that we could possibly do to stop her and she has 2,100 points in her career for a reason,” Barnes said. “I’m proud of our team. I thought we played hard and I thought we played pretty well, but we just couldn’t stop her.”
Alyssa James put up 18 points and eight rebounds for Binghamton (20-11, 10-6) and Jasmine Sina had 10 points. Binghamton will play the winner of Northeastern and Yale, who play today.
Arbanas was five for five from three-point range to finish with a team-high 16 points. Indiya Benjamin was two points shy of a double-double with eight points and 10 assists, but Sarah Cash did get a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Cash was honored before the game for crossing the career 1,000 points mark during the team’s 66-45 loss to Green Bay in the Horizon League Tournament semifinals last week. The Lordstown graduate is the 10th YSU player to reach the mark in her junior season.
“Nobody wants to lose in the first round, but they went on a run and we weren’t able to stop that,” Arbanas said. “We couldn’t put the basket at crucial moments. They kept going in the lead, unfortunately, but I thought we played hard until the end that’s what it’s about.”
YSU finishes the season at 16-16 with an 11-7 mark in the Horizon League. The team struggled with injuries to Alison Smolinski and Kelley Wright and began the season with a 6-12 start, but the Penguins rallied to make the League semifinals and earn a bid in the WBI.
“It’s bittersweet. It’s hard to end my senior year and my basketball career in general on a loss in the first round of a tournament, but my teammates turned things around this season,” Benjamin said. “We were able to get a lot of wins at the end of the season and I’m really proud of our season and that makes me happy.”