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Penguins grind out 62-49 win over NKU

Youngstown State’s Chelsea Olson drives and scores during the first half of the Penguins’ 62-49 win over Northern Kentucky. Olson scored 27 points, a career high in home contests.

YOUNGSTOWN — Chelsea Olson got Senior Day festivities rolling a game early.

One game before she’s to be honored as the team’s lone senior, Olson poured in 27 points — the most she’s ever scored in a home game — as the Penguins grinded out a critical 62-49 Horizon League win over the Norse on Friday night at the Beeghly Center.

The victory snaps a three-game skid against the Norse (17-7, 11-6), and keeps YSU (22-4, 16-3) in contention for Horizon League’s regular season title.

“Chelsea obviously had a nice game, and we needed all of it,” YSU coach John Barnes said of his star guard.

Olson went 8-for-17 from the floor, and did nearly all of her damage inside. Using her length to her advantage, she frequently was backing defenders down to score buckets at the rim. She sank just one 3-pointer of her three attempts, but went 7-of-14 inside the arc and 10-for-10 at the free-throw line.

She buoyed the Penguins in the first half, scoring 11 of YSU’s 24 points heading into the intermission.

“We talked about mismatches, and I feel pretty comfortable in the post when I have a smaller guard on me, so I just took advantage of it,” Olson said.

Out of halftime, Paige Shy provided the needed spark to help put YSU over the top, as she sank back-to-back 3-pointers and then a long jumper in consecutive possessions. The jumper wound up being the start of an 8-0 Penguin run that pushed Youngstown State’s advantage to 38-30. YSU didn’t trail the rest of the way.

Shy finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.

“No one realizes how hard Paige works (away from games). She probably gets in the gym and shoots more than anyone,” point guard Mady Aulbach said. “So when she has shots falling for her, I’m just ecstatic for her because she really deserves it and she’s an amazing shooter. We all kind of feed off her energy when she’s hitting.”

That was critical, as NKU’s Grayson Rose — a Garfield alumna — kept Lilly Ritz mostly in check. Ritz finished with 12 points on a 6-of-17 night and notched nine rebounds, while Rose scored nine points, snagged 12 boards and blocked six shots.

It also sparked YSU’s offense as a whole, as the Penguins scored 22 points in the third quarter after posting 24 in the entire first half.

“I thought we were more aggressive. I thought we were really hunting our shots,” Barnes said. “We were able to run a few sets that got us some looks, and sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t. (The shots) went down, and that gave us some confidence. Paige hits three (shots), that leads to Chelsea making a couple, which leads to Lilly making a couple. I thought just being able to get that lead and hold onto it (was big).”

The Penguins also turned in one of their most impressive defensive performances this season, holding a star-studded NKU lineup to a season-low 49 points. The Norse also were kept to the same total by Milwaukee on Nov. 20 in a 61-49 loss.

NKU shot 20-for-56 overall and a paltry 5-of-23 from 3-point range.

Lindsey Duvall, a transfer from Louisville and former Kentucky Ms. Basketball recipient, was averaging 17.3 points entering the game, but was kept to 13 on a 5-of-15 night. Ivy Turner scored 10, four below her 14.2 average.

Northern Kentucky has lost three of its last four games.

“We talked a lot in practice about everyone pulling their weight defensively and kind of getting back to the principals we started with,” Aulbach said. “I feel like when we were at home against Green Bay and Milwaukee (in early December), we didn’t have Lilly, and we really stood our ground. We knew we had to buckle down on defense, so we talked a lot about getting back to the mindset of almost being down a player, even though we weren’t and everyone pulling their weight and playing as hard as they could.”

The win sets up another important contest Sunday against Wright State, as a win in that matchup seals the deal on a top-four spot in the Horizon League standings. With that comes a first-round bye and home quarterfinal game in the league tournament.

“I really just want to win it for (Chelsea) so she can go out with a bang,” Aulbach said of Olson’s finale. “She really deserves it after the career she’s had.”


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