Late-game heroics

Benjamin gets it done as women win

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo YSU's Sarah Cash, left, and Anne Secrest try to prevent Northern Kentucky's Kailey Coffey from scoring in the lane Thursday night at the Beeghly Center.

YOUNGSTOWN — Indiya Benjamin had been struggling with her game.

Nothing was falling from 3-point range and there was the occasional dribble drive from the 5-foot-6 senior point guard.

Eventually, things turned around during Thursday’s 54-51 Youngstown State women’s basketball victory over Northern Kentucky.

Benjamin took the ball with 30 seconds remaining in front of the YSU bench. With the score tied at 51, she had to do something.

Time to break some ankles.

YSU's McKenna Peters, right, steals the ball from Northern Kentucky's Molly Glick.

Benjamin juked a taller Northern Kentucky defender, who fell by the wayside. The YSU senior guard stopped a couple of feet from the basket and elevated for a short jumper with 24.7 seconds left as the shot clock was near zero.

“I tried to do a little step-back and it kind of worked,” Benjamin said. “The ball went in, so I took it.”

It was impressive from YSU coach John Barnes’ angle.

“That was a big-time play,” Barnes said. “She struggled a lot today. So for her to have the confidence to do that was big time.”

Northern Kentucky (5-15, 3-6 Horizon League) drove inside, but Kailey Coffey’s layup went off the back of the rim and YSU freshman Anne Secrest grabbed the rebound and was fouled.

The Norse only had four team fouls and five would lead to a shooting foul. YSU (8-12, 4-5) got that with 2.3 seconds left as the ball was in Benjamin’s hands. She made the first foul shot, but missed the second.

Last-second heave for Northern Kentucky. Right? No.

There was an inadvertent whistle by an official, followed by a couple-minute delay looking at a video screen at the scorer’s table. The clock read 1.4 seconds left as the Norse heaved the ball to midcourt from out of bounds by the YSU basket.

Benjamin wasn’t done as she forced her 5-6 frame in the air to intercept the basketball. Game over.

“I was so happy I got the ball,” she said. “I was like, ‘God, give me the ball.’ And, it came right to me. I was able to get it and close out the game.”

Northern Kentucky hit four 3-pointers to start the first quarter, taking an 18-7 lead. The Norse average fewer than five 3s a game. YSU rallied to cut the lead to 21-17 by the end of one quarter and both teams were shooting around 50 percent.

The Penguins were propelled by freshman guard Chelsea Olson, who had nine points and seven rebounds at halftime. She finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. The Penguins are 6-0 when Olson scores in double figures.

The YSU freshman is becoming one of the Penguins’ go-to players.

“She’s really coming into her own,” Barnes said. “Every game, she’s doing different things and getting better, getting more experience. It’s fun to watch.”

Sarah Cash added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Penguins, who struggled with offensive rebounds and turnovers.

YSU had 22 turnovers and Northern Kentucky had 24 points off of those miscues. The Norse added 14 offensive rebounds.

“Turnovers and offensive rebounds is pretty much what we talk about all the time, go over it in film, practice,” Benjamin said. “We have to continue to strive and get it done.”

The Penguins shot 20 of 41 from the floor and outrebounded Northern Kentucky, 33-27.

YSU also held the Norse to less than 20 percent from the floor in the second and fourth quarters.

“Overall, I’m happy with our defensive performance,” Barnes said. “You can’t ask for too much more than that.”

With the win, YSU goes to sixth place in the Horizon League standings, a half game over Oakland and a game behind Cleveland State, which beat Wright State in overtime on Thursday.

The Penguins host Wright State Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.