YSU shoots down Jaguars

Smolinski sets mark for career 3-pointers

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes McKenah Peters celebrates from the Youngstown State bench Saturday at Beeghly Center during the Penguins’ 70-52 win over IUPUI.

YOUNGSTOWN — IUPUI’s Sydney Hall had one mission during Saturday’s game — stay with Alison Smolinski.

The Jaguars were well aware of the Youngstown State University senior wing. Smolinski has such a quick release; catch, shoot, make. She’s one of the best women’s basketball long-range shooters in the country.

As Smolinski went, so did the Penguins during Saturday’s 70-52 win over IUPUI at the Beeghly Center.

“They were all over her, bumping, grabbing her, which is part of the game,” YSU coach John Barnes said. “They’re doing whatever they can to take her out of the game. She didn’t let that affect her at all. She had any space, she was knocking it down in the second half. Just shot us to victory, no pun intended.”

Smolinski also shot herself into the YSU record books, as she was five behind Nikki Arbanas — who was in the stands for Saturday’s game — for 3-pointers made in a career. Smolinski had 204, while Arbanas had 209. Smolinski made three in the first half and two more in the second half.

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes Lordstown graduate and YSU post player Sarah Cash, left, battles with Tamya Sims of IUPUI Saturday at Beeghly Center.

Then, with 4:51 remaining and the game well in hand, Smolinski took a pass from Melinda Trimmer in the right corner. A quick shot and a swish, and Smolinski had the record. She shot 6-for-8 from 3 and 8-of-15 from the floor for a game-high 22 points.

Timeout was called after the record-breaking shot and she was swarmed by her teammates as she headed to the bench.

“Mary (Dunn) is always the first one to come up to me,” said Smolinski, whose team is in first place in the Horizon League with a 4-0 record and a 12-3 overall mark. “She’s like, ‘Did you hear Nikki Arbanas up there?’ I’m like, ‘We’re playing the game.’ “

It’s the exact mentality this team has from Barnes all the way through the system, focused.

However, the Penguins weren’t focused for the first part of the first quarter as both teams struggled with foul problems. Sarah Cash, Dunn and Amara Chikwe each had two fouls. The post game struggled against an IUPUI team which made things difficult throughout the better part of 10 minutes. The Jaguars (8-7, 2-2) had similar issues, holding a 12-11 lead as both teams were shooting around 30 percent.

The Penguins started to surge in the second quarter, taking the ball inside and having success. YSU shot 8 of 14 from the floor and 4 of 7 from 3-point range in the second quarter. Smolinski had 11 points at halftime and 3-of-4 from 3. She was in a rhythm.

Dunn, who had 11 points at halftime, finished with 17 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Lordstown graduate Cash had 13 points in 19 minutes.

The offense was dominant again, but so was the defense — taking out another top Horizon League player. Thursday it was holding UIC’s Brittany Byrd to zero points instead of her average of 17. Saturday, it was the league’s leading scorer in forward Macee Williams, who came in averaging 19 points per game. She scored nine against YSU.

The Penguins outrebounded IUPUI 35-31 with Chelsea Olson’s 11 defensive rebounds leading the way.

YSU clung to a five-point lead at halftime, but 20 minutes wasn’t enough for these Penguins. They outscored the Jaguars 16-7 in the third quarter to put the game in the win column.

“Since the team got here, we talked about being mentally tough, not worrying about the things that were going around,” Barnes said. “Getting too high on the good end. Just trying to stay level-headed no matter what’s going on. I thought the team did a good job of that.”

The YSU coach has the second-most career wins in team history with 250, passing Joyce Ramsey. Barnes has a 93-80 mark in Youngstown and was 156-55 in seven seasons at Division II Michigan Tech from 2003-10. Ed DiGregorio is the program’s all-time win leader with 319 in 20 seasons.

It’s about the program, coach DiGregorio and the fan base, who saw almost a decade of lean seasons before the Penguins started to turn things around, starting with current Ohio coach Bob Boldon and continuing with Barnes.

“To have the program headed in the right direction and win some games, making them happy, it’s nice in that sense,” Barnes said.

It was nice to see YSU shooting 11-of-24 from 3 against the Jaguars with Smolinski’s six makes putting her in the record books ahead of shooters like Arbanas, Indiya Benjamin, Liz Hornberger and Dianne Rappach.

“It was a special feeling,” Smolinski said. “I’ll probably never forget that.”