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Much-needed win

Penguin women earn first victory in nearly a year, down Oakland

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes -- YSU freshman Nneka Obiazor (1) shoots within the teeth of the Oakland defense during the second half of the Penguins’ 72-57 win over the Golden Grizzlies.

YOUNGSTOWN — Feb. 21, 2020.

That was the last time the Penguins found themselves on the right side of a contest, with a home win over Detroit Mercy.

Fast forward all the way to Saturday evening, and the Youngstown State women’s basketball once again walked off the court with a victory.

With everything the team has been through over the past several months, the 72-57 win over Oakland was relief for a Penguins team that dropped their first three matchups.

“It feels really good. I’m happy for the team, it was a long crazy process to get to this point,” YSU coach John Barnes said. “Practicing a lot then getting quarantined, then practicing a little bit more, quarantining, off, on. Playing not playing. It’s been a challenge for everybody. A lot of teams are going through that.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes -- YSU senior Chelsea Olson snags a defensive rebound during the first half against Oakland. She recorded a game-high 25 points.

“But, we started off here in the league against two really good teams, so we’re happy to get that first win on the board, now we just got to try and build on it.”

Two shutdowns induced by the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated the beginning portion of YSU’s season. The Penguins began their year last Friday against Wright State without fans at the Beeghly Center.

Saturday evening was a far cry for the Penguins who allowed the Golden Grizzlies to take an early 9-0 advantage in their win over YSU on Friday night.

With Oakland up 6-2, senior Chelsea Olson hit a jumper in the paint to kick off a 16-2 run from Youngstown State, which was capped by a free throw off the hands of freshman Malia Magestro to take an 18-8 lead. The first quarter set the tone as freshman Nneka Obiazor had eight, and Olson tallied seven within the first 10 minutes.

Oakland (4-7, 4-4) gained some steam after YSU cooled off in the second quarter and took a lead 25-24 advantage off a Breanne Beatty 3-pointer with just over 3 minutes to go before halftime.

That also was Oakland’s final lead of the evening, as YSU would take a slim 31-30 advantage going into the intermission and didn’t look back. The Penguins went on to outscore the Golden Grizzlies, 41-27, in the second half.

Olson and Obiazor were both the catalyst of the Penguins offense, with 24 and 22 points, respectively, to make up 63 percent of YSU’s total scoring. That’s in addition to Obiazor’s 11 rebounds, and Olson’s six rebounds and five assists.

“We needed it. Chelsea’s been struggling a little bit, and she finally played tonight how she’s capable of playing. She’ll say the same thing,” Barnes said. “For her to have a performance like that, if she continues to play like a first-team all conference player, we should be able to win a lot of games.

“Nneka as a freshman, to be able to do what she did tonight kinda shows you what she’s capable of. Proud of them all really, it was a team effort, and I’m happy we got the win.”

The Penguins have been holding teams to a bit under 60 points a game, but a major thorn in YSU’s side has been turnovers, with 22 being their worst mark of the season in their loss Friday evening during the front end of the two-game series.

They slashed that number down to 12 Saturday night, and it’s something that Barnes was pleased to see.

“It’s been an emphasis the whole year,” he said. “I feel like if we take care of the ball like we did tonight, we could be 3-1, and that’s hard to swallow, but at this point you have to because those games are over. But, the team made the switch mentally tonight and found a way to take care of it — found a way to get the win.”

Seniors McKenah Peters and Mary Dunn helped chip in with nine and eight points apiece. Following Saturday’s game, Olson only needs 19 more points to join Dunn in the 1000-points club — and she would be the 23rd player in program history to do so.

YSU (1-3, 1-3) will now regroup for a trip to the Windy City next weekend as they’ll face UIC (2-5, 1-3) at the Credit Union 1 Arena in Chicago. The Flames haven’t seen the court since a loss to Detroit back on Dec. 20, as their series against Purdue Fort Wayne and Robert Morris were both canceled due a COVID-related matter.

The Penguins have won nine of the last 10 over the Flames dating back to the 2015-2016 campaign, with their lone loss being in their last meeting at UIC last year.

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