Ugly win frustrates Barnes, Penguins

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Youngstown State’s Chelsea Olson brings the ball up the court during the Penguins’ matchup with Thiel on Thursday morning in Youngstown. YSU beat the Tomcats, 76-53.

YOUNGSTOWN — John Barnes exited the court at halftime with a scowl, leaving those in the stands wondering what awaited the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team at halftime.

More than 1,000 elementary school children were in the seats surrounding the Beeghly Center court for Thursday morning’s field-trip game against Thiel. YSU wanted to make a good showing.

The Penguins led by 19 points at halftime and won 76-53, but it was the things that will never appear on a scoresheet that soured the Penguins coach. The defense was a main point of contention.

Defense is what Barnes has always preached during his tenure at YSU as his teams have held opponents to 55 points per game this season. These Penguins should’ve held a 2-9 Thiel team to much lower.

Destiny Johnson led Thiel with 13 points and 13 rebounds. At 5-foot-9, she is the tallest player on the Tomcat team. She went against a YSU roster with four players taller than 6-0.

“I thought defensively we were not sharp,” Barnes said. “That was disappointing. I thought they did a good job of kind of exploiting our size. They’d run a five out, so that forced our post players to guard out on the perimeter. We struggled understanding who does what and who shoots well and different things like that.”

Mary Dunn, who had a game-high 22 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, saw her team’s defense eroding against an NCAA Division III team. YSU held a 42-to-29 rebounding advantage.

“We definitely need to step up on defense,” Dunn said. “I think a lot of times when you play as a team it’s easier to sink down to that level. It’s something we’ve struggled with in the past. We need to make sure we’re always playing at our level. We’re not going to dwell on it because we’ve got conference coming up. We got the win and no one got hurt.”

YSU stayed injury free, something the Penguins didn’t do last year as Alison Smolinski broke her left foot, leaving her in a walking boot for the better part of the season during the Penn State-Beaver game, another field-trip contest. Considering there is only nine players healthy on the roster, that is a good thing.

“She said something before the game,” Dunn said of Smolinski. “I said, ‘Don’t talk about it. Keep going.’ No injuries and win, that’s what we needed.”

Everyone but Sarah Cash had 20 or more minutes of play. Cash scored 13 of YSU’s 20 points in the first quarter in 5 minutes. She sat the rest of the game, giving the oft-injured post from Lordstown some much-needed rest.

The Penguins’ 3-point game was dormant as well, shooting a paltry 1 of 10 in the first 20 minutes. YSU did a much better job in the third quarter, going 4 of 8 as the Penguins led 62-38.

Chelsea Olson added 12 points, while Smolinski had 11 for YSU (8-3).

Melinda Trimmer was the only player not reaching the scoring column. She had six assists and no turnovers. She had nine assists and no turnovers in Tuesday’s loss at Bucknell.

“It is another solid game for her,” Barnes said.

Despite the defensive hiccup, the Penguins coach is pleased with his team’s start. This is a team that lost its best defender in Nikki Arbanas and stalwart in in the backcourt in Indiya Benjamin, the team’s all-time leading 3-point shooters. Olson is developing as a backcourt player, moving from a wing last season.

“I’m proud of the team and how all of them across the board have stepped their games up, effort level and helped us to this record,” Barnes said.

The Penguins have an extended break until Dec. 28, when they start a two-game road trip at Detroit Mercy, staring at 5 p.m.

Barnes is happy he and his team are celebrating this Christmas with a healthy nine-person roster.

The defense wasn’t up to par Thursday, but it’s one of those things when you have a record like YSU, you want to continually get better and not backslide in any shape or form.

“Overall, we got the win and nobody got hurt,” he said. “Those are the two most important things.”

GOT THE NAC: Chalker graduate Courtney Warnick is a freshman on the Thiel team, but she didn’t dress for the Tomcats on Thursday. She was in street clothes after suffering a high-ankle sprain in a recent tournament Thiel went to in Florida. Jess Vormelker, a Grand Valley graduate and Thiel starter, was 3 of 16 from the floor and 2 of 7 from 3 for nine points. Abby Triskett, another GV grad, came off the bench and was 0 of 3 from 3.