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Shorthanded Penguins adjust to beat Wagner

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes McKenah Peters (34) of YSU (34) drives against Wagner’s Emilija Krista Grava Saturday in the Penguins’ 64-42 win.

YOUNGSTOWN — Mary Dunn and Emma VanZanten came out wearing matching gray Youngstown State University warm-ups. The two, one 6-feet-3 and the other 6-4, were out for Saturday’s against Wagner.

Both post players were hobbling around with crutches, seeming awkward in their gaits — unlike their normal movement on the hardwood. Dunn is out with a leg injury she suffered at the end of the Nov. 16 Eastern Michigan game, while VanZanten hurt her foot in the first half of Wednesday’s loss at Akron.

Dunn eventually made her way to center court to receive a special YSU basketball commemorating her surpassing 1,000 points more than a week ago against Eastern Michigan.

Penguins coach John Barnes gave his lone senior a hug as Dunn brushed aside her crutches and eventually made her way to her coach. Lordstown native and former YSU standout Sarah Cash was in the background taking a picture on her phone.

It was a precursor to Saturday’s 64-42 victory over Wagner, a team from the Northeast Conference — the same league that includes NEC favorite Robert Morris.

It was special for Barnes, who still works with the post players during practices.

Barnes said VanZanten’s foot injury would likely put her out four to six weeks. Dunn’s leg injury will be re-evaluated on Monday, which will give a better indication of the YSU’s senior’s road to recovery.

“To see Mary succeed, it’s pretty special,” Barnes said. “I feel terrible for her right now because I think she would’ve loved to play in this game. They were a little undersized, too. She could’ve really gone to work. Happy for her. Hoping for the best. Praying for the best come Monday.”

The Penguins (3-3) made 11 3-pointers as YSU found a way to counteract the lack of inside presence. It hurt Wednesday as the Penguins dominated against a much bigger Akron team, but against an undersized Wagner team who YSU was playing for the first time, it didn’t matter. The Penguins held a 46-34 rebounding advantage Saturday.

Freshman Maddie Schires (12 points) was 4 of 12 from 3, while McKenah Peters was 4 of 8 from 3 (15 points). Chelsea Olson was 3 of 6 from 3.

Schires said she models her long-range shooting after former NBA star and Milwaukee Bucks player Ray Allen. Schires hails from Wisconsin.

Mind you, she’s not solely a 3-point specialty shooter as she, like the other team members, played good defense on Saturday.

“It depends from game to game,” Schires said. “He (Barnes) puts me on really good shooters and sometimes people who typically don’t shoot the ball a lot. Each game is different and I try to do the best that I can and help my team out.”

The Penguin guards were able to cut through the Seahawks defense often for dribble drives as YSU only had one player taller than 6-0, freshman guard Jen Wendler. Barnes said the freshman is limited to 20 minutes of play.

That leaves 20 minutes of play when YSU is limited to a five-guard set. Quick screens, pick and rolls, pressure defense. They are things you do when you are undersized.

“I think we’re really trying to be aggressive on offense and right when we get the rebound pushing a little bit more,” said Olson, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds. “Sometimes we have five guards in there. Just pushing the ball more and finding a way to win.”

The Seahawks (3-3) felt the pressure in the first three quarters as they shot an abysmal 6 of 42, looking more like a pedestrian high school team in the early season. Someone near the media table even said the backboard was going to hurt after Wagner’s performance with so many missed shots reverberating off the Plexiglas.

Emilija Krista Grava, who led the Seahawks with a 21 points per game average, was limited to four points, while Alex Cowan, who averaged 15 points a game, scored five. Morgan Lenahan, who had a team-high 12 points, only averaged 2 points a game.

“We knew who could shoot and who couldn’t shoot on the team,” Olson said. “The ones who couldn’t really shoot we were helping more inside. The ones who could shoot, obviously we were getting out on them and contest the shots as best as we could.”

Without Dunn, a first-team, all-Horizon League player, there was a lot of trepidation heading into this Wagner game.

“It’s very un-nerving to go without your first-team, all-conference senior captain, leading scorer to say the least,” Barnes said. “To be able to come out there, play well, play hard, play great defense, get a win just boosts everybody’s confidence.

“When you’re limited players-wise, everyone’s got to be ready, come in produce when they come in. Again, I thought all the players that came in did a nice job.”

YSU is off until Dec. 3 when the Penguins start a three-game road trip at Eastern Kentucky.

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