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Penguins set for Detroit Mercy, Oakland

YOUNGSTOWN — Though it’ll be a set of rematches with Detroit Mercy and Oakland this weekend, the circumstances are vastly different since Round 1.

YSU visited the two Detroit-area schools all the way back in November, the Penguins’ first Horizon League contests of the year. That successful road trip — YSU won both games — quickly set the tone for what’s been an impressive year for Youngstown State, which is first in the Horizon League at 11-1 in conference play and 17-2 overall.

Since then, Detroit Mercy (0-18, 0-11), which visits the Beeghly Center tonight at 7 o’clock, has remained winless. Oakland, meanwhile, is fifth in the league at 9-8 overall and 7-3 in conference play and still has a realistic shot at a top-4 seed in the postseason conference tournament.

In the first meetings, YSU toppled UDM 64-56 and Oakland 79-68 without the services of Malia Magestro.

But, YSU coach John Barnes cautioned, Detroit Mercy isn’t to be taken lightly.

“Detroit Mercy has a ton of new players. They basically flipped their roster, new coach, so they needed time to gel and get better and (build) team chemistry,” he said. “They’ve had a lot more time to play a bunch of games, so I feel like they’re way more comfortable playing with each other and under coach (Latanya) Collins. They’re playing better every game.”

Sydney Searcy is pacing the Titans at 10.5 points per game, while Brandi Washington is scoring 9.9.

In November, Youngstown State mounted a sizable lead up at UDM before the Titans went into a press defense that brought them back into the mix. Part of that, Barnes acknowledged, was that Detroit Mercy pressures well. The other issue, he added, was Magestro’s absence and only having one day off between that game and the Oakland game two nights prior.

Meanwhile, in the Oakland matchup, YSU withstood a 27-point fourth quarter onslaught from the Golden Grizzlies to win. Kahlaijah Dean led Oakland with 18 points that night, and is leading Oakland at 17.6 points per game.

“A ton of scoring power,” Barnes said of Dean and Oakland as a whole. “They push it up. Their press hurt us. We had a good lead on them, and they pressed and got back in it, but again, we were short-handed a little bit.”

On that note, Barnes anticipates Paige Shy to return to action this week after rolling her ankle at Robert Morris last week, though to what extent remains to be determined. Shy is averaging eight points per game for YSU.

The Penguins are also getting 17.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game from Lilly Ritz and 10.3 points apiece from Chelsea Olson and Malia Magestro.

This weekend marks the last time YSU will play within the confines of the Beeghly Center for a couple weeks. The Penguins will hit the road for a pair of road trips the next two weekends before hosting Northern Kentucky and Wright State on Feb. 18 and 20, respectively.

A challenging stretch, to be sure, but the Penguins enter in a nice position thanks to taking care of business at home the last couple months.

“I think the team and staff knew we had to make the most of our home games and our big home stretch to start the year, and we’ve done that minus one game,” Barnes said. “I think a change is good. I think we’re ready to get on the road a little bit and play some road games, but we have to finish strong here with Detroit and Oakland. Then, obviously, we have to be road warriors.”

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