MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — In her first return to Robert Morris since transferring to Youngstown State, Megan Callahan made sure to leave her mark.
With Youngstown State trailing by one in the game’s waning seconds, Callahan collected a pass from Chelsea Olson and sank a 3-pointer from the wing with 0.9 seconds to go, sending the Penguins to a 59-57 win over the host Colonials.
When the final buzzer sounded, Callahan’s teammates sprinted from the YSU bench to mob her at midcourt.
“I’m really happy, but I’m more happy for our team that we were able to stay together in the final stretches and finish that out,” said Callahan, who scored 13 points in the victory.
YSU (16-2, 10-1) will host the Colonials (7-9, 5-6) on Saturday to close out this weekend’s home-and-home and finish off a three-game series between the teams.
Though the ending was thrilling, the beginning was anything but for YSU. The Penguins found themselves down 21-9 midway through the second quarter, and were just 5-of-20 from the field to that point.
In response, head coach John Barnes shifted his team into a 2-3 zone to try and shake things up. It worked, as the Penguins finished the half on a 16-4 run to tie the contest at 25 entering halftime.
“We couldn’t stop them, and that’s what prompted (the zone),” Barnes said. “They were doing a great job taking advantage and scoring, so we just wanted to change things up and hopefully throw them off a little bit. Luckily, it did, and we were able to make some shots down the road.”
Indeed, after that icy start from the field, YSU sank six of its final seven shots to end the half, including an 8-0 scoring run by Lilly Ritz that helped the Penguins claw back in. Ritz finished with a game-high 16 points, and added 10 rebounds.
Out of halftime, Lexi Wagner and Malia Magestro each heated up, as Wagner sank a pair of second-half threes and scored 11 points, while Magestro also posted 11 points and added five rebounds.
“Huge,” Callahan said of Magestro and Wagner. “They’re key players to this team. When they come in and they have confidence, it really helps our team, and we all work better together that way.”
It was the second consecutive efficient game for Magestro, who shot 4-for-7 from the field. She scored a career-high 19 against IUPUI on Sunday after beginning the new year 2-for-18.
“Everyone has been really trying to give me the ball, so I think when I’m open, my teammates having that confidence in me is really what’s making me hit shots,” Magestro said.
YSU also took care of the ball better out of halftime. After coughing up 10 first-half turnovers, the Penguins only gave it away six times in the second half.
After an even third quarter, Youngstown State began the fourth on a quick 6-0 spurt courtesy of treys from Callahan and Wagner.
But RMU followed with a six-point spurt of its own, as Natalie Villaflor hit a layup, Simone Morris converted an and-1 and Sol Castro split a pair of free throws.
Villaflor, Morris, Ashya Klopfenstein and Esther Castedo each scored 12 for the Colonials.
From there, the teams traded the advantage back and forth, with neither side leading by more than three.
RMU took a 57-56 lead with 1:07 to play after a Villaflor free throw, and had a chance to put the game away as it had possession with under 30 seconds to go. But with the shot clock winding down, the Colonials turned it over after the ball went out of bounds off Nina Augustin.
The Penguins took a timeout to advance the ball before their initial inbound try was deflected out with 7.9 to play. Then, on the second attempt, YSU got it to Magestro, who dished to Olson.
Olson drove to the foul line and drew a double team before kicking to Callahan on the wing. Callahan set her feet and rattled home the game-deciding shot to defeat her former school.
“We were looking for Lilly. When the ball didn’t go in to her, Chelsea saw me open and had faith in me, and I had faith in myself to knock that down,” said Callahan, who added that the shot felt good off release.
Now, the teams will get a final shot at each other Saturday, but back at the Beeghly Center.
Barnes says the Penguins will need to tidy up a few things if they’re to finish a three-game sweep of the Colonials. YSU also defeated RMU 59-53 on Jan. 8.
“We have to play smarter, and we have to take care of the basketball,” he said. “And I think we have to do a better job of attacking the paint and making good decisions.”
Callahan added that she’ll be anticipating RMU’s best shot.
“It was a tough win, and they’re going to be angry from this,” she noted. “So they’re going to come back even stronger, and we need to stay focused and stay together. That’s the biggest thing.”