By Rick Henneman
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team (9-20, 5-13 Horizon League) entered their regular season finale against the University of Detroit Mercy (16-13, 12-6 HL) looking to end their season on the right foot. The Titans defeated the Penguins 80-63 in the first meeting on January 20. UDM defeated YSU 83-67.
It was senior night for the Penguins as guards Kelsea Newman and Jenna Hirsch were recognized along with forward Tamira Ford before tip-off.
Hirsch set the all-time YSU women’s basketball record for career games played with 124.
Detroit Mercy won the tip-off and went on a quick 5-0 run. YSU answered with a 9-2 run of its own to take a 9-7 lead with 4:40 left in the first quarter.
The Titans began to pull away but a familiar three from YSU guard Alison Smolinski tied the game at 14 with two minutes left in the first.
YSU trailed Detroit 17-14 at the end of the first quarter.
The Penguins scored the first points of the second quarter with a jumper from forward Morgan Olson. Then, UDM guard Gracie Roberts hit a jumper to spark a 10-0 Titan run.
Detroit’s defense was very good against YSU for much of the second quarter. That was until YSU ended the second quarter on a 10-4 run capped off by a jumper from forward Mary Dunn with three seconds left in the half.
Detroit led YSU 31-28 entering the halftime break.
Smolinski led all scorers with 11 points while Benjamin had 9 points and was 3-3 from the free throw line.
Both teams entered the second half with more energy. Benjamin continued her perfection at the charity stripe as she hit two more free throws after being fouled while driving to the hoop.
YSU trailed 40-35 mid-way through the third quarter when a timeout was taken after a charge call on Detroit’s Haleigh Ristovski.
The Wright and Benjamin combination was working for YSU in the third quarter. The duo scored 11 of the 16 points for the Penguins in the third.
Detroit’s leading scorer Rosanna Reynolds made her presence known after halftime, scoring 10 points in the third period of play.
UDM led YSU 52-44 entering the fourth quarter.
YSU came into the final quarter firing on offense but the Titans answered to maintain an eight-point lead with 7:08 left in the game.
Detroit’s Kelsey Mitchell converted an and-one opportunity to open up a 10-point lead over YSU with 4:40 left in the fourth. The Titans continued to pull away throughout the rest of the game to claim an 83-67 victory.
Benjamin led all scorers with 22 points. She also recorded 10 assists for her second double-double of the season. The Penguins had four scorers in double figures.
“I just wanted this win really bad,” Benjamin said about her performance. “I know Detroit is a good team but I think we could have had a chance to beat them. It was senior night and I wanted to win for our seniors. I gave it all I could.”
Reynolds led the Titans with 21 points while Ristovski had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
“It was very similar to the first game we played with them,” YSU head coach John Barnes said about the loss. “They are so experienced and we’re obviously thin. We fought as hard as we could and hung in there. Their shooters stepped up and made shots. I felt great about our looks but they just didn’t go in.”
Barnes also said that the play of Ristovski and Cohen made the difference in the fourth quarter.
The Penguins will enter the Horizon League Tournament as the eight-seed next Friday in Detroit.