Peters sparks defense in big win

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes McKenah Peters goes up for two of her 17 points Friday in YSU’s win over Wright State.

YOUNGSTOWN — McKenah Peters was wincing in front of the Youngstown State bench. It looked as if the sophomore wing had twisted her ankle. YSU’s best defender looked as if she would be limited to less than one quarter against the Horizon League’s top team — Wright State.

No, not this night. Arguably the league’s best defensive player, Peters has the uncanny habit of frustrating opponents. YSU assistant coach Andy Crane looked at Peters and said something. That’s all it took for the 5-foot-9 wing from LaGrange.

“He knows how to fuel my fire,” said Peters, who had 17 points. “He was like, ‘Why are your hands on your hips? Are you tired?’ I got a little offended by that.

“That made me want to push even harder. I really came out there, tightened my shoelaces and gave it everything I had.”

She quickly brushed off any signs of pain. Peters had an intense look in her eyes, gave a quick whip of her long, braided blonde hair and made a slight adjustment to her headband.

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes YSU’s Chelsea Olson goes in against Wright State’s Jalise Beck.

Her women’s basketball teammates saw her aggressive nature and followed her lead as the Penguins disposed of the Raiders Friday at the Beeghly Center, 83-68.

YSU (13-5, 5-2 Horizon League) shot 47 percent, while holding the Raiders to 42 percent and four of the team’s five starters to eight or fewer points.

“My whole team today brought it,” said Alison Smolinski, who had a team-high 22 points. “Our defense was really on tonight. I think everyone was confident on offense, too.”

All Wright State coach Katrina Merriweather could do is cross her arms and stand there in bewilderment. Drawing a technical foul in the first half had something to do with her quiet demeanor.

These Penguins asserted themselves against the league’s best which is usually hard-nosed in its own right, but they were coherent of a potential fourth-quarter comeback. The Penguins squandered a 17-point lead against Yale in late November. Wright State is much more established and fierce than that Yale team.

The Raiders (13-5, 5-1) would not surrender. Michel Miller’s 3-pointer cut the YSU lead to 75-63 with 2:30 remaining, against a Penguins team which held a 21-point advantage in the second quarter. Miller had 17 points, while Angel Baker led all scorers with 27 off the bench.

Wright State’s quickness came through against a YSU team which tried everything it could to defend against a physical club, which got to the basket often in the final 10 minutes — shooting 9-of-17 in that set.

YSU coach John Barnes called a time out in the final two minutes to let his tenacious team regroup.

“At the end, when they were going to work, gave you a flash of how good they can be,” said Barnes, whose team hosts Northern Kentucky Sunday at 1 p.m. “I think fortunately our defense was pretty stingy throughout three quarters at least, enough to get us the win.”

Wright State wasn’t undefeated in the Horizon League by accident, being one of the established teams in this league along with Green Bay. The Raiders were down by 11 at halftime.

YSU responded with a 15-5 run to start the third quarter, as Sarah Cash scored 12 of her team-high 22 points.

Chelsea Olson put the exclamation point on the third as she was double-teamed in the right corner. Time was running down and she shot an off-balance hook shot over the outstretched arms of Emily Vogelpohl as YSU led 62-43.

Smolinski responded with 13 points and three 3-pointers in the second half.

The victory started with Peters diving on the floor for any loose basketball, crashing the post for offensive putbacks and coming away with a steal or two on defense. It is what she does and has been taught by her parents Scott and Justina.

“I have a tattoo that says, ‘Work harder than anyone else’ in my mom’s handwriting,” McKenah said. “That’s what my parents have said to me since day one.”

She’s never forgotten those words.