By Dan Hiner
The Youngstown State University women’s basketball team’s defense is finally starting to consistently shut down opposing offense for the first time since the start of conference play.
The Penguins played their final home game of the season on Sunday night and came away with a 62-41 win over the University of Illinois at Chicago.
YSU (18-9, 9-7 in the Horizon League) was able to convert defense to offense early in the first half. The Penguins forced 13 turnovers, and outscored the Flames 13-2 on points off turnovers. YSU forced the Flames into 25 turnovers, the second-highest total of the year and scored 23 points off turnovers.
“I think the last four or five games we step up on defense and played it closer to how we played it at the beginning of the year and we needed to,” YSU head coach John Barnes said. “This team’s talented, Ruvanna Campbell’s unbelievable, we were focusing our whole team on her and she still had 14 points and 18 rebounds. But overall, I thought the team did a really good job at executing the game plan and finishing.”
The Penguins had trouble stopping UIC forward Ruvanna Campbell, who came into the game as the second-highest scorer in the Horizon League (18 points per game). Campbell scored 14 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.
“Our main focus this week of practice was defense. [Ruvanna Campbell] is a very good player, so our main focus this week was to try and stop her and get limited touches for her,” Benjamin said.
UIC (12-16, 3-14 in the Horizon League) couldn’t find an answer for YSU point guard Indiya Benjamin. She scored 20 of the first 42 points for YSU and tied a career-high 22 points.
All though Benjamin had success, the Penguins had trouble hitting their shots all game. YSU shot 40.4 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from behind the 3-point line.
It was also a special night for YSU guard Nikki Arbanas who hit her 124th career 3-point field goal, which tied her for 13th all time for career 3-pointers in YSU history. Arbanas finished second on the team with 11 points against UIC.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time, but probably not that early,” Barnes said. “For her age, she’s got a canny nack for making three’s and I thought she hit some big ones when we needed them—crucial ones. They were making their comeback, and they were kinda smelling a little blood in the water and she would hit one that would take a lot of air out of their sails. Then she hit another one to build our lead a little bit more where we could calm down a little bit because we had that lead.”
Barnes said the team is starting to turn things around at the right time. With the Horizon League tournament less than two weeks away, Barnes said the team is playing the better than it has all season.
“I feel like we’re playing better. I feel like the rotations are more set in stone, and the kids are more comfortable on where they’re going in and when they’re coming out,” Barnes said. “I like where we’re at, especially our defense. Today I felt like we didn’t shoot the ball very well, especially from three, we had a lot of open looks that just didn’t go in. A lot of them were in and out, and you got to play good D to win on days like that.”
UIC 41, YSU 62
UIC (12-16, 3-14) — Ruvanna Campbell 7-0-14, Imani Moore 2-3-7, Brittany Byrd 2-1-6, Kendyl Nunn 3-0-6, Caitlin Garant 2-0-4, Marissa Grossfeld 1-0-2, Laura Litchfield 1-0-2. Totals: 18-4-41.
YSU (18-9, 9-7) — Indiya Benjamin 9-0-22, Nikki Arbanas 3-2-11, Sarah Cash 3-3-9, Janae Jackson 2-3-7, Jenna Hirsch 2-0-4, Kelsea Newman 1-0-3, Jill Blacksten 1-0-2, Marissa Brown 1-0-2, Kelley Wright 1-0-2. Totals: 23-8-62.
UIC 11 6 15 9 — 41
YSU 12 17 13 20 — 62
3-point field goals: UIC 1 (Byrd); YSU 8 (Benjamin 4, Arbanas 3, Newman).
Rebounds: UIC 39 (Campbell 18, Garant 5, Moore 4, Byrd 2, Melita Emanuel-Carr 2, Nunn 2, Litchfield, Teodora Zagorac, Team 4); YSU 28 (Arbanas 4, Benjamin 3, Hirsch 3, Jackson 3, Newman 3, Cash 2, Blacksten, Brown, Wright, Team 7).
Steals: UIC 9 (Campbell 2, Grossfeld 2, Moore 2, Garant, Litchfield, Taylor Toney.); YSU 11 (Jackson 5, Cash 3, Hirsch 2, Benjamin).