By Daniel Hiner
With the regular season over, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team is ready for the post season.
YSU has been invited to participate at the 2015 Women’s National Invitational Tournament. The Penguins will play Duquesne University in their first round matchup on March 19.
“It’s very important. It’s making us better. It’s getting us used to this,” guard Indiya Benjamin said. “It’s giving us more experience to see what it’s like to get into the NIT or the NCAA or any other tournament other than the regular season.”
The Penguins made it to the second round of the NIT back in 2013 before being eliminated. That season forward Heidi Schlegel was injured and missed most of the team’s first round game but came back for the Penguins’ final game.
“I think it’s an honor to be in the NIT honestly — it’s a really respectable tournament,” Schlegel said. “I think that it’s really good that we made it this far. Some of my best memories are from the WNIT two years ago when I did get to play. I came back the first game and played the second game. I think it is really good, especially for the freshman to get them experience.”
The Dukes have a combination of size and athleticism that might give the Penguins’ undersized roster trouble. Head coach John Barnes said the team would have to focus on its fundamentals to counter Duquesne’s size.
“They’re definitely long and athletic, but we shoot the three very well,” Barnes said. “So hopefully that stretches out their defense. I think they are very aggressive at shot blocking and trying to get up on their post players, but you make good strong moves and sometimes that negotiates that length and height.”
The Penguins were successful shooting threes during the regular season — 34.6 percent. YSU will try to maintain that success in the NIT.
“It’s very important for me, Nikki [Arbanas] and whoever else on the outside to knock down shots to bring the taller people out more to guard us more,” Benjamin said. “When we’re driving and attacking, obviously they like to block shots so they will be drawn to us — we could dump it down to the post players to get them some open looks.”
The Penguins will have a quick turnaround. YSU isn’t concerned with the schedule and the players don’t view the tournament different than their Horizon League schedule.
“I don’t think there is a concern about that either. I think this is how our preseason was — we didn’t know the teams. Conference was a little bit different because we know the teams and we played against the teams in years past, but I think our preseason prepared us for these games,” Schlegel said. “We’ve played all season — we know what we do well and we know what we don’t do so well. So we need to focus on what we’re doing during the tournament games.”
Barnes said having Schlegel play in the NIT is a great opportunity for the senior and the program.
“She’s been very healthy this year,” Barnes said. “She’s had a great senior year and she’s ready for Thursday night. She’s worked her whole career for these types of opportunities. To be able to play at home in front of a great crowd is very exciting for the whole team and the whole program — so we are looking forward to it.”