By Rick Henneman
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team (6-10, 2-3 Horizon League) entered the game against Valparaiso University (5-12, 0-6 HL) just two days after their first Horizon League win of the season.
On Thursday night, the Penguins beat the University of Illinois at Chicago 70-54.
YSU continued their success at home with a 76-70 win against Valparaiso on Saturday night. After missing a few games while being in concussion protocol, Sophomore Alison Smolinski led the game with a season-high 19 points. She was happy to get back on the court and contribute.
“It feels really good to be playing,” Smolinski said “As soon as I hit the first shot, it gave me confidence and shooters shoot.”
Smolinski would later say that Valparaiso’s zone defense resulted in her and her fellow guards having many open looks.
Early in the first quarter, YSU made an effort to get the ball to Mary Dunn. She was drawing much of Valparaiso’s defensive pressure. However, with 6:28 left in the first, the Penguins began to rely on perimeter shooting and went on a 10-0 run.
Freshman Morgan Brunner continued to thrive in her starting role while scoring eight points during the run. Smolinski said that she was impressed with how Brunner was playing after only starting one other game this season.
“She’s doing great.” Smolinski said, “People really need to step up and she is taking all of the opportunities she’s given. She is a hard worker.”
Valparaiso’s Meredith Hamlet single-handedly shortened YSU’s lead to 19-13 with 2:51 left in the first. The quarter would end with YSU leading 21-15.
Valparaiso scored 20 points in the second quarter while holding the Penguins to only nine. YSU entered the halftime break with a five-point deficit.
YSU head coach John Barnes said that the team’s inexperience is causing some inconsistency during games.
“I feel like we are playing good halves.” Barnes said, “Last game we played a good second half. This game we played a really good third quarter and a decent first quarter. With a young team that happens. You get your ups and downs and we are just trying to level things out. It doesn’t have to be great, just a solid four quarters.”
YSU entered the second half looking to improve their offensive production and tied the game at 37 with 8:26 left in the third quarter. After that, neither team opened up more than a two-point lead until the Penguins went on a 5-0 run to end the quarter up 50-46.
Barnes said that in the second half, YSU’s defensive pressure caused Valpo to miss easier shots.
“In the second half, we were able to pressure a little bit more,” Barnes said. “We tried to get them sped up a little bit more. They missed some close shots that they normally make. Then, we were pushing more on offense which helped us get some of the open looks that we had.”
YSU started the fourth quarter with another 10-0 run, five of which came from Smolinski. YSU never trailed in the fourth quarter on their way to a second straight victory for the Penguins.
Hamlet led all scorers with 29 points and a career-high 10 rebounds.
YSU freshman Mary Dunn had 18 points while Brunner finished the game with 17 points and a career-high four assists.
As a team, YSU finished above their season average in all offensive categories.
The Penguins will play the last game of their three game home stand on Monday at 7 pm against Cleveland State University. They lost to CSU on New Year’s Eve by a score of 71-68.