Youngstown State suffers 1st defeat | News, Sports, Jobs

Youngstown State suffers 1st defeat | News, Sports, Jobs

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes
YSU’s Malia Magestro battles for a loose ball and gains possession during the second half against Western Michigan.

YOUNGSTOWN — With 3.5 seconds to go, Youngstown State turned to what has been the team’s bread and butter through the first three games this season.

Down by two, the Penguins went down low to center Emily Saunders. However, Western Michigan was ready.

The Broncos crowded the paint and got their hands on the ball to force a turnover. The final seconds ticked off the clock and the buzzer sounded, as the Broncos handed YSU its first loss of the season 54-52 on Thursday night at the Beeghly Center.

“We thought we had some pretty decent looks at the end of the game, but they didn’t go in for us or it just didn’t happen for us,” acting head coach John Nicolais said. “I was comfortable with what we were running and what we thought we could see to get it where we wanted to get it, but we just didn’t execute the way we needed to.”

The Penguins had led for most of the game. But despite holding a one-point lead to begin the fourth quarter, that quickly changed, as Western Michigan opened the period on a 9-0 run to take its biggest lead of the game.

That forced the Penguins to call timeout, and YSU made a change. Out of the timeout, the Penguins trotted out a small-ball lineup of Dena Jarrells, Malia Magestro, Shay-Lee Kirby, Abby Liber and Paige Shy.

YSU immediately went on a 5-0 run that forced the Broncos into calling a timeout of their own.

“I think (Liber) definitely was the one that provided that spark when she came in, which we needed,” said Shy, who finished with 15 points to lead the Penguins. “It gave us a different look and a little bit of a faster pace, which got us back into the game. … I think it took us getting down 5-10 points before we were like, ‘Hey we need to get these loose balls, box out and do the controllables.’”

Usually YSU likes to lean on its inside-out game with one of its bigs on the floor. But with the Broncos going with their own small-ball lineup the whole game, the Penguins decided to match up.

Western Michigan’s Hannah Spitzley, who finished with 20 points, played a key role in the Broncos’ run. So YSU wanted to adjust its approach defensively to limit her effectiveness down the stretch.

“We decided to switch because Spitzley, I think she ended up with 20, she was the primary reason that was an issue on the pick-and-pop stuff,” Nicolais said. “Once we switched it up a little bit and then allowed our kids to switch, I felt it forced them (to be) a little stagnant offensively. So maybe we should have gone to it a little bit sooner, I don’t know. That’s on us. But hopefully we can regroup and bounce back.”

Throughout the rest of the fourth quarter, YSU slowly closed the gap with its small lineup on the floor. The Penguins finally tied the game at 52 with 1:24 to go when Shy hit a deep three from the top of the key.

“Was just kind of my shot,” Shy said. “I didn’t really think much of it. I just was like, this is a shot that I can make and have confidence in myself. But again just realizing we need to get a stop now.”

After a miss by the Penguins, Western Michigan got the ball with 24 seconds to go with about 3 seconds between the game and shot clock.

Megan Wagner, who exited earlier in the game after getting hard contact on a rebound, drove into the lane and drew a foul in the final seconds.

She calmly stepped to the line and hit the two game-winning free throws for her only points of the night.

“We gotta give Western Michigan credit. Like we told the girls, you can’t pay attention to their record,” Nicolais said. “They are good competition. Their style of play, I knew it was going to be a little bit of a challenge coming in. We tried to address that in practice, but we had opportunities for the game to be a little bit different. But credit to Western Michigan for out-rebounding us and getting the loose balls.”

Next up for YSU is a homecoming of sorts for several of the Penguins.

YSU will travel to West Virginia on Sunday to face the Mountaineers. Nicolais and four Penguins players — Shy, Kirby, Jarrells and Saunders — are all from the Mountain State.

That group of four all played together for the West Virginia Thunder AAU team back in high school.

“I think it’s just so surreal — we were just talking about it the other day how we started together, and now we’re finishing it together and now we get to go home together,” Shy said during a press conference Wednesday. “I feel like it’s a great thing that we get to go play in our home state and so much of our family’s coming, so it’s going to be pretty awesome just to be there on their floor, see our family in the stands and all play together on that floor. It’s going to be special.”

YSU and WVU tip off at 4 p.m. Sunday at the WVU Coliseum.

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