By Dan Hiner
With 4:55 left in the Youngstown State University’s game against Oakland University, facing a 53-52 deficit, YSU guard Nikki Arbanas hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Arbanas’ basket gave the Penguins a 55-53 and YSU never looked back as YSU pulled out a 67-63 win over Oakland.
“It seems like its been this way all year — a lot of fall behinds, comebacks, close games,” YSU head coach John Barnes said. “I would love some easy ones but I don’t think it’s meant to be for this team. We just have to fight and scratch for every win we get, and I thought they did that.”
YSU (15-6, 6-4 in the Horizon League) won its first game with the Grizzles at the O’rena 96-77 on Nov. 28.
The Penguins couldn’t miss in their first matchup. YSU shot 51.6 percent from the field and tied a school record with 16 3-pointers, but this time around things were different.
“We just have to keep shooting because eventually the shots are going to fall. We have great shooters on our team. So if we just keep shooting, then eventually they’ll go in,” YSU forward Sarah Cash said.
Oakland (12-9, 4-6 in the Horizon League) played strong defense in Thursday’s game, but the Penguins were able to shut down the Grizzles offense as well. YSU held Oakland to 37.5 percent from the field and 3-23 from behind the 3-point line.
“We were getting the ball into Sarah and she was getting some good looks, she just wasn’t making them,” Barnes said. “We think she’s gonna make every shot she takes around there, I think everybody feels that way, and when they don’t go in we’re like ‘what the heck.’ But again, our defense kinda saved us in the second half. To hold them to 63 total points … is good for us because we’ve been struggling a little bit on the defensive side.”
The Penguins shot 33.3 percent from the field and YSU missed 19 straight shots, but it was the trio of Kelsea Newman, Cash and Arbanas that kept YSU in the game.
Newman, much like Arbanas, hit three crucial 3-pointers throughout the game, two gave the Penguins a one-point lead. Newman finished with 15 points.
Cash lead the Penguins with 22 points. She looks to have gotten back into a groove after a tough stretch. Since Jan. 21, Cash has scored 18 or more points in six straight games.
Arbanas shot 6-10 from behind the 3-point line, and 6-12 from the field. She was second on the team with 18 points and scored 10 or more points in back-to-back games, the first time since Jan. 7-9.
“Nikki saved us. She really played well, shot well,” Barnes said. “Indyia [Benjamin] struggled today and Janae [Jackson] really struggled today, Kelley [Wright] struggled … a lot of people struggling. So for her to play as well as she did today was huge for us.”