Behind an 18-2 run in the third period, Valparaiso eliminated Youngstown State, 79-62, from the 2017 Little Caesars Horizon League Women's Basketball Championship on Friday at Joe Louis Arena.
The Crusaders led by 10 in the first seven minutes, but Alison Smolinski made four 3-pointers in the final three minutes of the first period to get the Penguins back in the game. YSU led three times in the second period and trailed just 34-28 at halftime.
Indiya Benjamin scored on the first possession of the second half to get the Penguins within four, but Valparaiso scored the next 10 points as part of its 18-2 run that sealed YSU's fate.
Valparaiso advances to play No. 1 Green Bay on Friday, and Youngstown State's season ends with a 9-21 record.
Smolinski finished the day with 18 points on six 3-pointers, which was the most ever by a Penguin in the tournament and one shy of the tournament record. Benjamin added 10 points and five assists for YSU.
Dani Franklin had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Amber Lindfors posted 12 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks to lead Valparaiso. The Crusaders doubled up the Penguins on the glass with a 52-26 edge, and Valpo converted 22 offensive rebounds into 19 points.
Valpo had two offensive rebounds on its first possession, and it made its next three attempts to jump out to an 8-0 lead just over 90 seconds into the game. YSU weathered the storm by scoring the next five points, and Valpo scored seven in a row later in the period to go up 17-7 at the 3:38 mark.
That's when Smolinski caught fire for the Penguins, hitting 3-pointers on four consecutive possessions to tie the score at 19 with 48 seconds left. Meredith Hamlet scored on Valpo's next possession to give the Crusaders a 21-19 lead at the end of the period.
Smolinski hit another 3 to start the second period to give the Penguins their first lead of the day at 22-21, and two consecutive steals led to YSU taking a 26-24 lead at the 6:29 mark. The Penguins did not make another field goal in the first half, and Benjamin's basket to start the second half was YSU's only make over the next 12 minutes. By that time, Valparaiso had built a 52-32 lead.
The Penguins worked the lead down to 15 twice in the third period and one more time in the fourth.
Valparaiso shot 49.3 percent for the game, with a 13-for-17 effort in the third period helping the cause. YSU shot 37.7 percent and committed just six turnovers.