Penguin women excited for WBI

YOUNGSTOWN — John Barnes arrived at the office at 5:45 a.m. Tuesday. He’s been furiously gathering information and, along with his assistant coaches, scouting his team’s next opponent.

This coaching staff seems prepared. All eyes are on Binghamton.

“I don’t drink coffee,” said Barnes, whose Youngstown State women’s basketball team hosts Binghamton (19-11) tonight at 7 in a first-round game of the Women’s Basketball Invitational. “I went to bed early just to be able to get up early and get things ready for practice (Tuesday).”

The two schools have not played each other. In fact, 12 of the other 15 teams in the tournament have not faced the Penguins (16-15).

YSU will pay $10,000 to the WBI to host the first-round contest. Medical Mutual of Ohio is sponsoring tonight’s contest.

The Penguins have the third-highest RPI in their half of the bracket. The second-round game would be Sunday or Monday against the winner of Thursday’s Yale-Northeastern game. The site will be determined after the first-round games are completed. Yale (126) and Central Arkansas (123) have higher RPIs than YSU (139).

As for Binghamton, the Bearcats are led by left-handed senior guard Imani Watkins who averages 20 points a game and can pose problems for defenses.

“Not only can she shoot from deep, but she’s very good off the dribble,” Barnes said. “Out of ball-screen situations she can attack the basket or shoot pull-ups or step-backs. She’s going to be a challenge for us to say the least, but we have played against players like her throughout the season.”

Kai Moon (12 points) and Alyssa James (10 points) are the other two double-figure scorers for Binghamton, which plays in the America East Conference. The common opponent for the two is Bucknell. YSU lost 66-60 at home against the Bison, while the Bearcats dropped a 64-59 game on the road.

Binghamton won eight of its last 12 games, but lost the last three. YSU has won 10 of its last 13 games before losing to eventual Horizon League Champion Green Bay in the semifinals of the league tournament.

This is the second time in WBI play that YSU has taken on an American East opponent. The Penguins beat Stony Brook two seasons ago when YSU made a run to the semifinals of the WBI.

Having such a short turnaround time in preparation isn’t going to affect the Penguins. In fact, redshirt junior guard Nikki Arbanas looks forward to the challenge.

“You just get to play basketball and not worry about every little detail about the other team,” she said.

YSU is going to get hands in the faces of Binghamton players, and playing defense that has only allowed more than 70 points twice in the last 13 games.

Offensively, the ball funnels into posts Mary Dunn and Lordstown native Sarah Cash, who reached 1,000 points in her career during the March 5 loss to Green Bay. From there, it could go to the basket or out to Arbanas or Indiya Benjamin, who both have more than 200 3-pointers in their respective careers.

The focus for YSU is simple, keep winning one game at time for an ultimate goal — something not all teams share this time of the year.

“I talked to some of my other coaching friends and they said it was like pulling teeth to get their teams to practice hard, get after it in practice,” Barnes said. “The team here has been working hard, had a ton of energy and preparing like it’s a chance for them to win a tournament. I’m proud of them for that.”

No caffeine needed for this team, just like their coach. They’re running on pure energy.