Youngstown State led Pittsburgh by 11 in the first period, but turnovers plagued the Penguins over the final 30 minutes as they fell 66-58 in the season opener on Friday night at the Petersen Events Center.
Behind an early burst by Indiya Benjamin, the Penguins built a 19-8 lead in the first period. Youngstown State committed 10 turnovers in the second period, which Pitt converted into 11 points to take a 28-25 lead at halftime. Youngstown State led again in the third, but Pitt had runs of 9-0 and 8-0 in the final 12 minutes to build an insurmountable lead.
YSU's final lead came when Nikki Arbanas hit a 3-pointer at the 5:29 mark of the third period to put the Penguins up 37-35. Youngstown State's Kelley Wright then dove on the floor for a steal and passed ahead to Alison Smolinski, who made a layup in transition. The basket was waived off as Benjamin was called for stepping in front of a Pitt defender, and the Panthers came down and hit their first 3-pointer of the game to go up 38-37. YSU did not lead again.
A 3 by Smolinski and a free throw by Natalie Myers tied the score for the final time at 42-42 with 1:56 left. Pitt then scored the final four points of the third period and the first five of the second to take a 51-42 lead. Another Smolinski triple cut the deficit to 53-47 with 6:16 left, but Pitt went on an 8-0 run to gain separation at 61-47 with 3:11 left.
Youngstown State rallied to get within six with 12 seconds left before Pitt made two free throws to close out the scoring.
Benjamin finished with 16 points, and the Penguins got solid production from their two redshirt-juniors coming back from injuries. Arbanas scored 15 points in her first game action in almost 20 months, and Sarah scored 12 points in 12 minutes in her return after missing the final 23 games last year.
Kalista Walters had 17 points and 16 rebounds, and Yacine Diop had 14 points and 11 boards for Pitt.
Benjamin hit a bucket on YSU's first possession, and she scored the Penguins' first 10 points of the game as Youngstown State built a 10-2 lead at the 6:21 mark. YSU's largest lead came when Arbanas hit a 3-pointer with 57 seconds left to make the score 19-8.
Pitt scored the next six points to trim the margin to five, and it scored nine straight points to take their first lead at 25-23 with 2:24 left in the second period. Mary Dunn hit a basket at the 1:46 mark to end a scoring drought of nearly five minutes to tie the score, and a free throw and a buzzer-beater by Yacine Diop put Pitt ahead 28-25 at the half.
Benjamin had 12 of her points in the first quarter, and Cash scored her sixth point at the 8:22 mark of the second period. She was whistled for her second foul at the 7:39 mark and left with the Penguins ahead 21-14.
Youngstown State will play host to Kent State in its Beeghly Center opener on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. The game will be the first of four home doubleheaders with the men's team this season.