Surprise, surprise

brown 2-28

Youngstown State University’s Brandi Brown (42) drives to the hoop during the second half of Thursday nights matchup against the University of Illinois Chicago at the Beeghly Center. Brown finished the game with 39 points and 13 rebounds in YSU’s 79-66 win over UIC. Photo by Dustin Livesay/The Jambar.

Bob Boldon’s game plan succeeded for the 19th time this season: keep Brandi Brown in play.

“That was the best play I drew up all night,” he said.

Brown looked for a substitute in the second half, but she didn’t go out until the final seconds of the game. She left to a standing ovation in Beeghly Center after a career-high 39 points — the sixth highest single player score in Youngstown State University’s history — during the 79-66 victory over the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“I wanted her to get the applause that she deserved,” Boldon said. “She’s an amazing person with an amazing motor that keeps going. I’m just happy that I got a chance to coach her. She’s a good kid.”

Boldon added that he was concerned before the game began. The Penguins (19-7, 9-4) were without starter Karen Flagg (6.8 points per game) and Heidi Schlegel (9.9 points per game).

“There was a lot of doubt as to what was going to happen tonight,” he said. “But Brandi really took it upon herself to get us off to a good start and took it upon herself to keep us going, and then was kind enough to take it upon herself to finish the game for us.”

YSU got off to a hot start in the first half against UIC (9-17, 5-8) in the first half. The Penguins scored 49 points, shooting 66.7 percent from the field and 88.9 percent from the foul line.

Then the Penguins struggled in the second half, making eight shots on 25 attempts. The Flames, though, couldn’t capitalize as the YSU defense shut them down.

“We had a hard time guarding them at times, but I thought our kids really responded,” Boldon said.

The victory keeps the Penguins as the second-best team in the Horizon League, leading Loyola University by half a game before Thursday night. The University of Detroit was one game behind.

Also, the Penguins are one win shy of their first 20-win season since the 1999-2000 campaign (22-9). Brown, who went 0-30 her freshman season three years ago, said the program has turned around in a hurry.

“Getting through those bad days is what makes the good days good, and it’s what makes a day like today feel special,” she said. “I believe that anything can change if people have the right mentalities. If you believe you can do something, then you can do it and you shouldn’t let anything stop you.”

Brown will be honored with Brandi Brown Appreciation Day on Saturday. The Penguins will challenge Wright State University (4-9, 10-16), the eighth-best team in the conference.

After that, YSU will host Valparaiso University in the regular season home finale on Monday before traveling to Detroit on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Chris Cotelesse