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Penguin women face tall task vs. Panthers

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU’s Maddie Schires, left, reacting after a 3-pointer earlier this year, and the Penguins face second-seeded Milwaukee today.

Three senior stalwarts on the Youngstown State women’s basketball roster are in the position that comes with postseason tournament play — their next game could be their last game.

Mary Dunn, McKenah Peters and Chelsea Olson, along with freshman standout Nneka Obiazor, have carried the YSU women in a season made difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trio almost saw their YSU careers end Thursday when the seventh-seeded Penguins earned a 62-59 victory over Purdue Fort Wayne, seeded 10th, at the Beeghly Center in the first round of the Horizon League tournament. Tonight, YSU goes on the road to Milwaukee to face the second-seeded Panthers.

The game can be found on WNIO 1390-AM and at ESPN-plus. Tip off is set for 8 p.m.

Dunn, who was granted a medical redshirt after her original senior season ended in late 2019 with an injury, averages 16.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Obiazor, the league’s Freshman of the Year, averages 15.5 points and 8.1 rebounds. Olson has averages of 9.8 points per game and 5.2 assists per game. Peters scores at a 9.4 ppg rate.

The Panthers (18-6, 15-5 Horizon) tied with Wright State for the regular-season title. YSU (10-7, 9-7) and Milwaukee did not meet this season, a result of the pandemic-affected season.

Milwaukee leads the league in scoring defense. The Panthers’ top scorers are Megan Walstad (12.7 ppg) and Brandi Bisping (11.5).

“Milwaukee has six or seven seniors, they are very good all around,” YSU coach John Barnes said after Thursday’s game. “Great post game, great perimeter game, they have a very good point guard, a bunch of them shoot it.

“It’s going to be a tall, tall task. We’re on the road. We’re definitely a big-time underdog, but I think our team will rise to the occasion and play a great game.”

The other quarterfinal games tonight are top-seeded Wright State hosting No. 8 Northern Kentucky, No. 3 Green Bay at home against No. 6 Cleveland State and No. 5 IUPUI at No. 4 Oakland. The final four will be played next week at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis. The semifinals are scheduled next Monday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The final is slated for noon next Tuesday and will be seen on ESPNU.

Last week, the Penguins trailed by six in the opening minute of the fourth period, but outscored Fort Wayne 14-5 the rest of the game to advance. YSU didn’t allow a point over the final 4:50, and forced a deep, contested 3-pointer on the Mastodons’ final possession, despite a full shot clock.

Dunn and Obiazor accounted for 46 of the team’s 62 points and helped YSU hold a decisive 46-18 scoring edge in the paint. Dunn finished with a season-high 26 points and 10 rebounds, and Obiazor had 20 points. That duo accounted for all of YSU’s 18 points in the first period, and Dunn had eight of the Penguins’ 14 points in the fourth quarter.

Though YSU swept the two games against Fort Wayne (1-22) during the season, the score was tied 30-30 at halftime.

The Penguins held their largest lead of the game, 41-35, with 6:21 remaining in the third quarter, but Fort Wayne ran off 11 straight points for a 54-48 lead just 25 seconds into the final quarter.

An 8-0 run that Peters finished with a 3-pointer with 7:00 remaining put YSU ahead 56-54.

The Mastodons held their final lead at 59-58 and the Penguins shut out Fort Wayne over its final seven possessions with three turnovers and five missed field goal attempts. Dunn scored her 26th point from Olson’s eighth assist at the 3:32 mark to put the Penguins ahead 60-59, and Obiazor finished the scoring on a bucket from Dunn with 1:22 left.

YSU shot 49.1 percent overall, and was 25-for-43 inside the arc. In addition to a 46-18 edge in paint scoring, YSU also had a 36-22 rebounding advantage. Purdue Fort Wayne shot 42.6 percent overall, but it shot 23.1 percent, going 3-for-13, in the fourth period.

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