Penguins nearly steal victory in return
YOUNGSTOWN — It’s been 304 days since Cleveland State sent Youngstown State packing in the first round of the Horizon League tournament to conclude an injury-plagued 2019-2020 season for YSU.
That’s also the last time Penguins coach John Barnes and his team stepped foot on a court against an opponent until Friday afternoon.
A pair of positive COVID-19 tests within the program over the fall delayed the Penguins season for over a month, but a rejuvenated Penguins roster began the program’s 46th season against the Wright State Raiders to kick off the first in a series of four games between YSU’s two programs this weekend at the Beeghly Center.
They may have played on their home court, but due to Horizon League rules, fans aren’t permitted to attend.
No parents, no pep band, no cheerleaders, no Pete the Penguin. The red chairback seats that make up the lower seating bowl sat pushed against a wall in a nearly desolate 49-year-old arena.
YSU didn’t look the part of the team that hardly had an opportunity to practice as a full unit, and did have a chance to knock off a strong Raiders team, but ultimately fell short 57-53.
“It was great to get back out there,” Barnes said. “It’s been a long wait for the players and the staff to get out and compete, so we’re all pretty excited to be out there.”
A pair of freshmen helped comprise the Penguins starting five for the first time since the 2014-2015 season. Local product Malia Magestro from nearby Kennedy Catholic (Pa.), and Nneka Obiazor joined seniors McKenah Peters, Chelsea Olson, and most notably, redshirt senior Mary Dunn.
Dunn came into Friday afternoon’s contest after missing all but the first four games last year, and she led the Penguins with 15 points and eight rebounds in nearly 34 minutes of action.
Despite the loss, Barnes liked his team’s effort on the defensive end of the floor.
“We held them to 22 percent from 3, they got some easier baskets down the stretch, but ultimately I thought her defense was pretty good,” he said.
“We didn’t shoot the ball very well, I think it was some nerves. Our turnovers and our shooting was some nerves, it’s been a long time since they’ve been out there. It’s good to get that first one under our belt, and with this new series, being able to play tomorrow, you don’t have to sit on a loss too long, you get to come back and try it again.”
With 4:27 left in the first, YSU took their first lead of the contest off a Maddie Schires 3-pointer to give her team a 10-9 advantage. Obiazor knocked down a jumper late in the quarter to make it a 17-14 game in favor of the home team after the first ten minutes of play.
The Penguins led by as much as five off a Dunn free throw at 21-16 at the 8:43 mark early in the second, but they never led the game again after Alexis Stover stole the ball and spilt a pair of free throws on a foul to make it 22-21 Wright State midway through the period.
Later on, Schires knotted the contest up at 38 points a piece on a 3-pointer late in the third, but Destyne Jackson gave the Raiders back the lead moments later. YSU then trailed by as much as eight with less than 5 minutes to go in the game and bring it within a point a 54-53 following a pair of free throws from Olson with 1:19 left.
A critical charge call on Wright State’s Angel Baker opened up the door for YSU to potentially take a lead with 29.9 seconds left and possession with no shot clock.
Olson was moving the ball around with Dunn guarded in the paint, and she kicked the ball to Obiazor, but the ball was nearly stolen and loose on the floor when Schires picked it up and immediately shot an errant, long-range 3 with 14.3 seconds left. It banked off the backboard and bounced off the front iron into the hands of Wright State’s Tyler Frierson after Dunn nearly secured the offensive rebound.
With 5 seconds left and down three, Peters purposely missed a free throw to give the Penguins one last opportunity at a possession, but Frierson once again snagged the rebound for the Raiders (4-3, 4-1).
Wright State took advantage of the Penguins’ miscues and tallied 22 points off 21 YSU turnovers and went on to score 30 of their 57 in the paint, along with 16 points off fast-break opportunities.
Schires, who broke YSU’s freshman 3-point record last season finished behind Dunn with 12, and Obiazor tallied eight after making all three of her field goals. Eleven different Penguins saw the court in the loss, but YSU was without the services of Emma VanZanten, Quinece Hatcher, or Gabby Lupardus.
The Penguins are back in action this afternoon at 1 p.m. against the Raiders at the Beeghly Center.