Arbanas, Benjamin lead YSU

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Youngstown State’s Chelsea Olson guards Cleveland State’s Jade Ely Saturday at Beeghly Center as YSU’s Sarah Cash, far left, battles with the Vikings’ Shadae Bosley (34) in the lane.

YOUNGSTOWN — Nikki Arbanas still wears that black band around her head and her hair poofs up in the back, at a 45-degree angle.

The sweat drips from her brow, but the sheer concentration on her face was uncanny. The black brace strapped to her left leg, still reminding her of last year’s ACL tear which ended her junior season, doesn’t faze the redshirt junior.

She calmly drained a 3-pointer late in the third quarter with her typical hop step.

Indiya Benjamin, her backcourt mate for the past couple of seasons, had her hair in two tight braids, hanging over the No. 3 on the back of her jersey and almost to her waist. She said the hairstyle was just a change of pace.

The senior point guard holds a laundry list of records.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Youngstown State’s Indiya Benjamin, right, guards Cleveland State’s Khayla Livingston.

It was just like old times for the Penguins as they swept the season series from Cleveland State Saturday, 76-69.

Arbanas had a season-high 24 points, one shy on her career high.

She had almost a week in between games, which gave her that extra energy for Saturday. Arbanas said her legs are always tired, more than they were before the injury.

“It took me a whole season to feel normal again,” she said.

YSU coach John Barnes, whose team improves to 15-14, 11-7 Horizon League, said the ACL surgery Arbanas had in 2016 took time to get over. In some ways, she’s still recovering, dealing with phantom pains at some point.

“She has a little more hop in her step,” Barnes said. “It takes almost a full year to recover from ACL surgery, a full year playing before you get back to yourself.”

In some ways, so is Benjamin. She wasn’t herself last year without Arbanas in the backcourt. You could tell the senior point guard was missing that special something — her backcourt mate.

Now, she is YSU’s all-time leading career 3-point shooter with 201, while Arbanas has 200 — both records made Saturday. Benjamin is the school’s career leader in assists, games started and games played.

“It’s a great, awesome achievement to do that with someone you’ve been riding with the whole entire time you’ve been here at YSU,” said Benjamin, who had 14 points and 12 assists on Saturday.

The two and the rest of the team had to deal with a rough and tumble Cleveland State team where Ashanti Abshaw had a team-high 21 points. Khayla Livingston added 15, while Rachel Slaney put in 10.

Benjamin said the hard-nosed played brought out the best in her as she said she and her teammates had to guard the 3, drive to the basket, contact, fouls and the like.

“You’ve got to come with it and come prepared to play hard the entire game,” she said.

YSU’s senior Kelley Wright felt the ill effects of CSU’s bullish play as Wright was landed upon by a Vikings player. Wright’s left arm is in a sling and Barnes said she’ll be evaluated later with X-rays and a doctor’s visit.

“We’re all hoping and praying for the best,” Barnes said.

YSU didn’t have to do much of either as the Penguins dominated the rebounding 46-26.

“I thought rebounding was the biggest key,” Barnes said.

YSU is likely the fifth seed for the upcoming Horizon League Tournament in Detroit. The Penguins start play on March 4. YSU has to win on three straight days to take the Horizon League title.

No more pains for Arbanas. She won’t allow it. She has to do it for her teammates.

“Just got to push through it,” she said. “You only have, hopefully, three wins. That’s good.”