Penguins Drop Heartbreaker to Green Bay in Motor City Madness Semifinals

Alison Smolinski (Photo by Rob Hayes)
Alison Smolinski (Photo by Rob Hayes)

Detroit, Mich. - The Youngstown State women's basketball team fought to the end, but came up just short dropping a tough 55-53 contest to Green Bay in the Little Caesars Horizon League Women's Basketball Championship semifinals on Monday afternoon at Little Caesars Arena.

The Penguins trailed by as many as 13 points in the contest before battling back in the second half to take a three-point lead with 4:33 left in the game. 

YSU led 50-47 with 4:33 remaining following a Melinda Trimmer runner in the lane. The Penguins had three chances to build on the lead, but missed a pair of 3-pointers and a layup. The Phoenix tied the contest at 50 with 2:37 remaining when Jen Wellnitz drained an open 3-pointer from the corner.

The Phoenix went ahead 52-50 with 1:27 remaining following a Wellnitz pull-up jump. The Guins came down and pulled within 52-51 as McKenah Peters split a pair of free throws with 1:11 remaining. On defense, the Guins forced a long shot by Green Bay's Madison Wolf and called timeout with 29.3 seconds left. Out of the timeout, Peters found an open Sarah Cash on the block, but Cash's attempt hit off the backboard and the rim and Green Bay grabbed the board with just over 17 seconds remaining.

With 11.3 seconds remaining, Meghan Pingel made two free throws to give the Phoenix a 54-51 lead. YSU came right back and Cash was fouled with 11 seconds left. She made both free throws pulling the Guins within one. YSU fouled Frankie Wurtz with 9.3 seconds, and she missed both free throws. The Guins called timeout with 8.7 seconds left to advance the ball.

Out of the timeout, Trimmer took the inbounds pass and, moving to her right, put up an off-balance 16-footer that hit the rim and bounced off. Wurtz grabbed the rebound with 2.9 ticks left, and she made the first free-throw attempt but missed the second. Trimmer's heave from three-quarters court came up short as time expired.

Alison Smolinski was on fire in the third quarter to get the Penguins back into the contest. In the third, Smolinski made five 3-pointers and had 15 of the Guins' 17 points. Her first triple of the quarter was her 100th of the season, and YSU outscored the Phoenix 17-11 in the third quarter to tie the contest at 38. Smolinski finished with a game-high 18 points while Peters had 12 and Trimmer had 10.

For the game, YSU shot 32.7 percent making 17-of-52 attempts overall and 13 3-pointers. Green Bay made 21-of-55 shots (38.2 percent) and missed nine free throws. The Guins were 6-of-7 from the free-throw line 

In the first half, the Penguins relied heavily on the 3-pointer to stay in the contest. YSU made seven field goals in the first half, including six 3-pointers. 

YSU made three 3-pointers in the first quarter to take a 9-8 advantage following a Smolinski triple with 4:53 left. However, that was the Guins' last points of the quarter as the Phoenix closed out the period on a 6-0 run to grab a 14-9 lead by the end of the frame.

The Guins started slow in the second quarter before ending the period on a scoring flurry to close within 27-21 at the break. After falling behind 17-9, Olson knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the deficit back to five. But the Phoenix went on another run scoring the next eight points pushing its lead to 25-12 with 3:29 remaining. 

In the final three minutes of the half, YSU's offense came to life outscoring Green Bay 9-2. Trimmer started the surge making a 3-pointer from the corner with 2:50 left. Peters then made a layup and converted a free throw on a three-point play with 39.4 seconds remaining. After YSU forced a shot-clock violation, Trimmer took the inbounds pass and drilled a 3-pointer at the top of the key with just three seconds left before the half.

For the half, YSU shot 24 percent making 7-of-29 shots and was 6-of-19 from beyond the 3-point arc. Green Bay made 12-of-29 attempts for a shooting percentage of 41 percent. The Phoenix were 11-of-22 from inside the arc and made just one 3-pointer.  

YSU's record drops to 22-9 while Green Bay improves to 22-8 and will play Wright State for the Horizon League Championship on Tuesday. The Penguins should be in line for a postseason bid to the WNIT or WBI. Postseason tournament selections will be announced next Monday, March 18.