Penguins looking to rebound
YOUNGSTOWN — The Penguins have turned the page.
Coming off of its first Horizon League loss of the season, a 76-68 overtime defeat against preseason favorite IUPUI, Youngstown State has left that in the past and is looking forward, according to coach John Barnes.
That path forward begins with back-to-back games with Robert Morris, the first of which is tonight in Moon Township, Pa., at the UPMC Events Center and the other a matinee contest Saturday afternoon.
This evening marks YSU’s first road contest since traveling to Penn State on Dec. 12.
“I said (to the team) I kind of allowed myself to be upset for about half of the next day, and then you got to put it behind you and start refocusing on how to beat a really good Robert Morris team,” Barnes said.
Tonight will mark the second of three contests between the Penguins (15-2, 9-1 Horizon League) and Colonials (7-8, 5-5). In an impromptu game scheduled back on Jan. 8, YSU topped RMU 59-53 at the Beeghly Center.
Originally, the Penguins were scheduled to go on a road trip to Wright State and Northern Kentucky that weekend, but COVID-19 issues within those two programs forced cancellations. YSU was awarded a forfeit win over WSU, while the NKU game was ruled a no contest.
In that six-point victory, YSU was tested throughout the contest by a stingy Colonial defense that presently ranks third in the Horizon. At the time of the first contest, it ranked second behind YSU, which still is at first overall.
The 59 points were the least YSU had scored since putting up 58 at Penn State.
“They play really hard. They’re in good position most of the time, they communicate well, they’re physical and pressure, all of those things,” Barnes said.
Though it’s perhaps unusual to finish the home-and-home series this quickly — all within a span of about two weeks — Barnes said playing the odd COVID-19 season provides some experience with that. Last year, the Horizon League schedule featured back-to-back games between all conference opponents.
In the first matchup, three Colonials scored in double figures: forwards Sol Castro (11 points) and Ashya Klopfenstein (12 points) and guard Simone Morris (11 points).
“Sol’s an outstanding player in the post, and some of the other players made some big shots. We got to do a better job defensively. Offensively, I think we can make some little tweaks to help us out in that sense, and it’ll be a battle of wheels.”
As a team, RMU shot just 20-for-52 (38.5 percent) and turned it over 17 times, but a slight rebounding advantage, 10-2 advantage in second-chance points and 6-for-15 performance from 3-point range helped keep the Colonials in the mix.
YSU, meanwhile, benefitted from those 17 RMU turnovers by parlaying them into 23 points. The Penguins relied heavily on the trio of Chelsea Olson, Megan Callahan and Lilly Ritz, as those three scored 44 of YSU’s 59 points that day. Ritz led with 17, while Olson scored 15 and Callahan, who transferred to YSU from Robert Morris, scored 12.
Barnes is expecting the teams to stick to their styles in both contests this weekend.
“They do what they do. I don’t think they’re going to change up a whole lot, and they know we’re not going to change up a whole lot,” he said. “We have to try to do what we do better than (the Colonials doing) what they do.”
And based on his previous run-ins with RMU, Barnes is expecting another couple tough tests this time around.
“All of our games since I’ve been here at Youngstown State have been battles with Robert Morris — tough games right down to the wire,” he said. “I don’t see these two being any different.”