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Penguin women beat an unlikely opponent

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU freshman Nneka Obiazor drives and scores during the first half on Friday against UIC. The forward scored a team-high 19 points in the Penguins’ 88-78 win over the Flames.

YOUNGSTOWN — As if this basketball season hasn’t been unusual enough for Youngstown State, this weekend presented another first for the Penguins.

Earlier in the week, Detroit Mercy’s women’s basketball program elected to suspend its season, leaving YSU without its originally scheduled opponent. Across the midwest, Illinois-Chicago’s series against Northern Kentucky was nixed after a COVID-related issue arose within the Norse’s Tier I bubble.

Within 24 hours, Youngstown State found out it would be playing host to the Flames — that’s after the two programs faced off last week in Chicago. On Friday afternoon, YSU found itself on the winning end of an 88-78 score for the Penguins’ third straight win over UIC and fourth overall.

Seeing a team four games in a row is just one of the many bizarre quirks with the 2020-21 campaign.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played a team twice in a row in 20 some years,” YSU coach John Barnes said. “So, to play a team four times in a row, I’ve never even heard of it before. But a lot of stuff is happening in this pandemic year and we try to do the best we can to get through it.”

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU senior McKenah Peters reacts after making a layup against UIC Friday afternoon and recorded 17 in the Penguins win.

It’s just one of many weird circumstances to come out of this season.

“It’s tough, because all week we’re prepping for Detroit, and then they cancelled the rest of their season,” Barnes said. “So, mentally, we were told basically that we weren’t going to be playing this weekend, and then an hour and a half, two hours later, we find out that we’re most likely playing UIC.

“It’s tough, it’s tough on the kids, it’s tough on everybody, but we played hard and made enough plays down the stretch to get the win.”

The Penguins (4-3, 4-3 Horizon) shot well from the field all afternoon, with a total percentage of 54.7 percent on 29-of-53 shooting. Senior McKenah Peters got her team off on the right off, as the guard knocked down a pair of threes to give YSU an early 6-0 lead. Later in the period, a pair of Flames induced a turnover by Penguin senior Mary Dunn and Amira Coles hit a floater to give UIC a 10-9 advantage on the ensuing possession.

That was the only time YSU trailed, with sophomore Maddie Schires hitting a 3-pointer from a feed off the hands of fellow sophomore Mady Aulbach moments later.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU senior Mary Dunn passes outside under the basket during the first half against UIC, she had 14 in the victory.

Trailing 51-34 midway through the third quarter, the Flames (2-8, 1-6) utilized a full-court press and began chipping away at the deficit. Multiple Penguin turnovers allowed UIC to cut the lead to 58-54 with less than two minutes to go before the fourth quarter.

But YSU flipped the switch and went on a 14-4 run at the beginning of the final period, which was capped off by a layup off the fingertips of freshman Nneka Obiazor.

“Their pressure gives you a chance to score points and get open looks, layups, and open 3’s,” Barnes said. “I thought the team did a good job of finding those open players and knocking 3s down, getting some and-1s.

“It also gives you that opportunity to force us into 22 turnovers, so there’s definitely give and take there.”

The teams combined for 16 three-pointers, with nine of those coming off the hands of Penguins. Obiazor, who has been selected as the league’s top freshman the past two weeks, scored a team-high 19 points, along with eight rebounds.

Four other YSU players hit double-figures in scoring, as Peters went 5-for-9 from beyond the arc to help her record 17, along with freshman Malia Magestro recording a career-high 14, while going 2-for-2 from 3-point range.

Dunn tallied 14 points and six rebounds, and senior Chelsea Olson ended with 10 points, nine rebounds, and five assists.

YSU’s 88 points are the most they’ve scored in a Horizon League contest since beating Detroit Mercy at home 91-45 back on Feb. 2, 2019. They’ve also won 12 out of their last 13 contests against UIC, with their lone loss being on the road against the Flames last season.

The Penguins look to extend their winning streak to five this afternoon, with one more contest versus UIC at 2 p.m. It’ll be the front of a doubleheader, with the men’s team tipping off against the Flames at 5 p.m.

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