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Cleveland State pummels YSU, 81-48

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU’s Emily Saunders goes up for a layup during the first half on Saturday at Cleveland State.

CLEVELAND — This one left little to feel good about.

In a battle with first-place implications, Youngstown State was thoroughly crushed from start to finish in an 81-48 drubbing at the hands of rival Cleveland State on Saturday afternoon at the Wolstein Center.

The loss, combined with Thursday’s defeat at Purdue Fort Wayne, has dropped YSU into third place after entering the week tied for first in the Horizon League.

“It was just a tough, tough game,” said YSU coach John Barnes. “They’re very good and very good at home, so give them a lot of credit. Obviously they’re one of the best teams in the league, and we’re not playing great right now. I feel like we haven’t played very well the last couple games, and we have to get it together for the final run.”

Youngstown State (16-7, 10-4 Horizon League) briefly led 1-0 after a Malia Magestro free throw before Cleveland State (21-3, 12-2 Horizon League) ripped off a 13-0 run to go in front for good.

The Penguins battled back to within single digits a number of times throughout the first half, the first time courtesy of a quick eight points from Dena Jarrells and then later a spurt by Emily Saunders. But CSU grew its lead back out to 36-24 by halftime.

Then, the wheels came off the wagon in the second half. Cleveland State outpaced YSU 29-11 in the third quarter to take a 65-35 lead into the fourth.

“We struggled from the start, and then making shots gives you energy, and we didn’t make many. So we didn’t have a lot of energy out there either,” Barnes said.

Indeed, it was a tough day from the field for the Penguins. The typically sharp YSU guards were just 4-of-32 from deep and 10-of-44 from the field. The Penguins’ four starting guards — Megan Callahan, Magestro, Jarrells and Paige Shy — were just 7-of-30.

Then, too, the Penguins struggled with turnovers against Cleveland State’s zone defense. YSU coughed up 19 giveaways and had just 12 assists in the loss.

“It’s really tough when you go against a team that plays zone and you’re not shooting well,” Barnes said. “We missed a bunch early and got dug in a hole.”

YSU’s forwards didn’t fare much better. Lilly Ritz had six points and seven rebounds, but was just 3-for-7 from the field. Emily Saunders had eight points on a 4-for-6 performance, but both frontcourt players spent the day in foul trouble. Both Saunders and Ritz had four fouls by the midway point of the third quarter, forcing YSU to utilize different lineup combinations.

Meanwhile, Cleveland State’s Amele Ngwafang again punished the Penguins. The Vikings’ center went for a game-high 21 points and 15 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end.

That keyed a huge day on the glass from Cleveland State, as the Vikings outrebounded YSU 55-32 and picked up 16 second-chance points on 21 offensive rebounds.

Meanwhile, Cleveland State’s guards also attacked the basket well, yielding 24 fouls against Youngstown State. As a result, the Vikings went 26-for-34 at the line compared to YSU’s 4-for-10 mark.

“(Ngwafang) … absolutely killed us in the post, and that’s a hard spot because we usually can rely on that as our staple,” Barnes said. “And then them shooting 34 free throws, I felt like they definitely got to the line a lot, and we didn’t, and that hurts.”

He added, “The first key was offensive rebounds, because they had 16 in the last game. They had 21 this game. And then taking care of the basketball — we had 16 turnovers at home, we had 19 here. So we didn’t do a great job of executing the game plan and taking care of our keys.”

In addition to Ngwafang, Destiny Leo scored 18 for Cleveland State, and Brittni Moore added 14 points and eight rebounds. Gabriella Smith tacked on 11 points.

YSU was paced by eight points each from Jarrells and Saunders.

The Penguins will look to get back on track Thursday against Oakland, which begins a four-game home stand.

“Six games left, and really we’re in a hotel one night. … So this is a great opportunity to go on a run,” Barnes said. “I think we need to pull together and play well, and we can go on a run and see what happens.”

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