Free throws make the difference 

Lilly Ritz continues to push the Penguins both at home and away. Photo by Elizabeth Coss / The Jambar

By John Ostapowicz 

The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team completed its two-game homestand at Beeghly Center and holds a five game win streak, Jan. 26 through 28. 

The Penguins began their homestand against Wright State University on Jan. 26. Four Penguins scored in double digits, which led to a compelling 76-60 victory over the Raiders.  

For the offense, senior Lilly Ritz recorded her 12th double-double of the season with 23 points and 19 rebounds. Junior Malia Magestro added to the total with 17 points.  

Youngstown State had an impressive showing from beyond the arc, led by senior Dena Jarrells draining two 3-pointers, while senior Paige Shy shot 4-of-5 from the 3-point line. 

The assists numbers were aided by sixth-year Megan Callahan, who had a career-high of seven assists. Senior Mady Aulbach also contributed to the assist total with five. 

With the win, the Penguins stayed at home to take on Northern Kentucky University on Jan. 28. The game came down to the final two seconds, with Shy draining two clutch free throws in regulation to seal the deal, 52-51. 

In response to the last-second score, Shy said that the nerves were high heading to the line but it was the team that helped her mentally focus on that moment. 

“[I have to] go in confident, because if I’m not confident then there is no chance it would have went in,” Shy said.

The Norse held the lead in the final minutes of the game but a foul by Northern Kentucky’s senior Ivy Turner in the fourth quarter would propel the Penguins for a chance to win. 

Coming off the bench, senior Emily Saunders scored 11 points in the paint and went to work in the post, recording a season-high six rebounds. 

The combination of Ritz and Saunders overwhelmed the Northern Kentucky offense that has been averaging 69.5 ppg. The adaptability in the post and the resilience of the duo made a difference. 

“Communication is the biggest factor in our defense, I feel like they got us a couple of times and we learned from it,” Saunders said. 

Both offensively and defensively, Ritz has been the difference maker for the Penguins, as she is top five in four different categories within the Horizon League.

As of Jan. 30, with 22 games played, Ritz ranks first in rebounding with 10.7, first in field goal percentage at 62%, second in points per game at 17.2, and fifth in blocked shots averaging 1.1 blocks a game. 

With the win over North Kentucky and Wright State, the Penguins improve to 16-5 overall and 10-2 in the Horizon League. 

With eight games left in the season, Youngstown State is currently tied for the number one seed with Cleveland State University and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Head coach John Barnes knows that down the stretch, every game matters in a competitive Horizon League conference. 

“Our league is really good, I’ve been saying it since the beginning of the year, there are 7-8 teams that can win the regular season or the tournament,” Barnes said. 

The women’s basketball team is also ranked fifth in team offense, averaging 68.3 ppg and second in team defense, allowing only 55.7 ppg. 

The battle for the Horizon League continues, as the women’s basketball team is back in action tonight, Feb. 2 in Fort Wayne, Indiana to face off against Purdue University Fort Wayne. 

To watch the game, check out ESPN+ or listen to the game on 1390 WNIO.