Shooting star

Smolinski chases 3-point mark as YSU defense shines

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes Alison Smolinski shoots the 200th 3-pointer of her Youngstown State career Thursday night during the Penguins’ 81-29 win over UIC.

YOUNGSTOWN — Nikki Arbanas was in the crowd, watching her former team. The Hickory, Pa., native is Youngstown State’s all-time leader in 3-point baskets with 209.

Senior Alison Smolinski was one 3-pointer away from joining Arbanas and Indiya Benjamin as the team’s only players to make 200 or more 3-pointers in their careers.

Smolinski made three in the first half to lead the utter domination over Illinois-Chicago Thursday at the Beeghly Center, 81-29. It was the third-fewest points allowed by the Penguins in school history.

“I learned a lot from Nik,” said Smolinski, who was 5-of-10 from 3 with 20 points and has 204 career 3s. “She was one of my best friends. It was an honor to play with her. I got to play with some amazing shooters, Indiya Benjamin, Kelsea Newman. That’s where I learned how to shoot.”

Her first 3-pointer put her at 200. From there, she was in a rhythm.

“Seeing that go down is always great,” Smolinski said. “Coach (John) Barnes has a great place for our guards to get us the ball and knows we’re a 3-point shooting team.

Inside, junior Mary Dunn couldn’t be stopped with 26 points and 13 rebounds, coming off the bench.

She was hip-checked early by the Flames players in the post, but with little or no effect on the 6-foot-3 YSU center as Dunn was quite a force near the basket.

“Mary is coming along every game. Every game she is getting better,” Barnes said. “It’s fun to watch her develop.”

Defensively, YSU (11-3, 3-0 Horizon League) held the Flames (2-12, 0-3) to a Penguins team record 11 points at halftime as UIC was shooting less than 20 percent from the floor. It held up for the game.

Rebounding, the Penguins dominated 46-31, making things difficult on the Flames all night.

“I thought the team responded well defensively,” Barnes said. “We tried to plug up the paint as much as possible.”

They held the Horizon League’s second-leading scorer, UIC’s Brittany Byrd, to no points. She averaged 17 a game coming into Thursday, but was 0-of-7 from the floor against YSU.

“We tried to focus on her, try to make everything difficult for her,” Barnes said. “Not only did McKenah (Peters) do a really nice job, but so did the rest of the team.”

YSU was 18 of 31 from the floor and 7 of 15 from 3 at halftime, shooting 31 of 63 from the floor and 11 of 32 from 3 after 40 minutes.

It was 1980s night at the Beeghly Center as the Penguins not only turned back the UIC offense, but had the combination of Dunn and Lordstown native Sarah Cash go 11-of-12 from the floor in the first half.

Cash had 10 points, while Deleah Gibson added 12 off the bench.

“The guards were throwing really good passes,” Dunn said. “Every time I raised my hands I just had to go up and put it in. I was focused on finishing.”

YSU faces (8-6, 2-1) IUPUI next, hosting the Jaguars Saturday at 1 p.m. IUPUI handed Cleveland State its first Horizon League loss on Thursday, 75-60.

The Jaguars beat YSU last year at the Beeghly Center, 65-43.

“IUPUI is an excellent team, very, very talented, well-coached, plays hard,” Barnes said. “They beat us in this building last year. I think they were picked second in the league. Obviously, the coaches all believe in how good they are.”

Nothing will be easy on Saturday.