Penguins snap losing skid
YOUNGSTOWN — Taylor Petit found her way inside the Cleveland State defense and wiggled around a couple of defenders as she does most games.
A tipped ball, deflection or corralling a loose basketball, things that do not show in the box score.
Six of her eight rebounds were offensive in Saturday’s 84-72 win over Cleveland State, as the Youngstown State women’s basketball team broke a six-game losing streak.
“She does so much for this team,” said YSU junior forward McKenah Peters, who had a team-high 18 points. “I don’t know where we’d be without her for sure. She’s a tough, gritty player.”
Peters was one of five Penguins to score in double figures, as Quinece Hatcher and Jen Wendler both had 14 points, while Chelsea Olson and Maddie Schires both added 12 points.
This YSU team has been told it lacks size, ever since mid-November when 6-foot-3 Mary Dunn and 6-4 Emma VanZanten have been out of action with injuries.
The Penguins (12-13, 5-9 Horizon League) held a 44 to 27 rebounding advantage.
Smiles. You could see one peer through on the face of Peters, who is normally focused on the tasks at hand during her time on the court.
Energy. There was plenty of it Saturday for YSU, which was going through a rough patch the past couple of weeks.
“We haven’t felt in a while being down six games,” Schires said. “It felt really great as a team. I think this is a turning point for us and our energy needs to continue.”
YSU coach John Barnes said the team had its best week of practice leading into Saturday’s game.
“It’s not easy to come to practice, work, have a great attitude and energy when you’re not winning games,” he said. “They did that. They found a way to pull that out of themselves. Our leadership helped that out. I thought it showed on the court today.”
Offensively, it was one of the Penguins’ better performances. YSU shot 29 of 60 from the floor and 7 of 21 from 3. Schires, who was 4 of 10 from 3, set the freshman 3-point record. She has 57, which is among the top 10 in the nation among freshmen. Schires broke Nikki Arbanas’ record of 55.
But, Schires is not just a 3-point gunner.
“Because I’m a shooter, a lot of people try to get me off the line,” she said. “I look for Jen. I look for Q. I look for McKenah. I look for anyone that will come off the drive that is open to it. I pride myself on being a good passer just because everyone is a good passer to me.”
The only one who reached double figures for CSU (17-8, 7-7) was Mariah White, who had a game-high 33 points.
YSU held a four-point edge after three quarters, but the Penguins looked good after three quarters in the last meeting against Cleveland State before the Vikings blasted YSU in the final 10 minutes.
Not this time.
The Penguins eventually built an 82-64 lead on two free throws by Wendler.
This year’s Penguins played in front of the last YSU team to advance to the NCAA Tournament as the 1999-2000 team was honored at halftime. Those Penguins finished 23-8 overall and 13-3 in league play, and they dropped a first-round game at Penn State in the NCAA Tournament after winning the team’s third Mid-Continent Conference championship.
“That looked like an incredible bunch of women,” Barnes said. “They were having a blast, laughing. You could tell the chemistry. It seemed like a really fun time to be around YSU women’s basketball. When you win that much, it’s pretty fun. When you win all the time, it makes for a great season.
“We’re trying to get back to that point. If we can stay healthy, I think we’ve got some chances.”
YSU also wore its pink uniforms, supporting breast care research and the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center in Youngstown. Penguins players were on the video board talking about who they were playing for Saturday.
“It’s always extra special to play in the ‘think pink’ game and make money for breast cancer awareness,” Barnes said. “I thought our kids stepped up for that project.”
YSU is a couple of games away from possibly hosting a home game in the Horizon League postseason. That’s the focus of these Penguins.
“These next four games we could win-out if we put forth the effort,” Peters said.
The current five-game homestand continues Friday as YSU hosts Detroit Mercy, starting at 7 p.m.