Nashville, Tennessee -- Indiya Benjamin's free throw with seven seconds remaining helped the Youngstown State women's basketball team escape with a 51-50 win over Nicholls State in the first game of the Teresa Phillips Thanksgiving Classic at Tennessee State's Gentry Center on Saturday.
Benjamin split a pair of free throws to break a 50-50 tie, and Nikki Arbanas did not allow Nicholls State leading scorer Emani White to get off a quality shot as time expired.
The Penguins, who improved to 5-0 for the first time in 18 years, survived 27 turnovers behind another strong defensive effort. YSU held the Colonels to 26.7 percent shooting behind five blocks from Latisha Walker and strong on-ball defense by Arbanas. Youngstown State has now held four straight opponents under 55 points, and the defense allowed Nicholls State to turn those 27 turnovers into just 12 points.
Youngstown State trailed 18-12 with 6:35 remaining in the first half when NSU's Jenny Nash and Taylor Morrison hit back-to-back 3-pointers. The Colonels didn't make another field goal until there was 23 seconds left in the half, and YSU made its biggest run of the game.
Jenna Hirsch hit a triple to stop a three-minute scoring drought for YSU, and the Penguins went on to score 18 of the next 22 points to turn that six-point deficit into a 30-22 advantage three minutes into the second half. That was the largest advantage of the game for either team.
Nicholls State got within three after White made two free throws at the 11:10 mark for her first points of the game. YSU stretched its lead back to seven when Hirsch found Arbanas on a fast break, but Nicholls State scored the next seven points to knot the game at 38-38. Walker halted the run with two free throws, but Nash and White hit back-to-back 3s to put the Colonels up 44-40 with 5:08 left. Those triples capped a 13-2 run for Nicholls State.
YSU answered with seven straight points with four free throws and a 3 by Benjamin to go up 47-44. Nicholls State scored the next four points to go up 48-47 with 1:49 remaining, and Walker tied the game with a free throw at the 1:29 mark. Heidi Schlegel's jumper put YSU ahead 50-48 with 29 seconds left, and NSU's Hope Pawlowski tied the game with 8.6 seconds remaining with two free throws following an offensive rebound. Benjamin was fouled trying to break NSU's press on the next possession, and she split the pair of free throws to give the Penguins the win. The freshman from Lima, Ohio, missed her first attempt, and her second fell through after hanging on the front of the rim. The Penguins were 12-for-14 from the free-throw line in the second half
Schlegel and Walker both finished with double-doubles, and YSU held a 45-33 edge in rebounds. Schlegel had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Walker posted 15 points and 10 rebounds to go with her five blocks.
Nash finished with a game-high 17 points for Nicholls State, and White finished with nine points and seven steals. White, who came into the game averaging 23.5 points, was held 3-for-13 shooting.
Youngstown State will play the Teresa Phillips Thanksgiving Classic host Tennessee State Tigers on Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern.