Colonials pull away in second half to take down Youngstown State


Esther Castedo racked up 11 points in the series-opening victory over Youngstown State. Photo Credit: Tyler Gallo

By Austin Bechtold, Contributor

MOON TOWNSHIP– After sweeping the Wright State Raiders in the program’s most successful Horizon League weekend of their young career, Robert Morris women’s basketball continued their success on Friday, taking down Youngstown State.

RMU (3-8, 3-8 Horizon) defeated the Penguins (5-4, 5-4), pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 61-46 victory.

Robert Morris started the first quarter off strong as Holly Forbes recorded her second steal in only two minutes of play and turned a breakaway into the Colonials’ first points of the night.

Defensively, the Colonials set the tone with a handful of steals off of physical defense. For the first time this season, Robert Morris outrebounded their opponent with a 46-37 differential.

Head coach Charlie Buscaglia said his team has been focused on improving their rebounding in practice.

“It was our effort early on that set the tone,” Buscaglia said. “We were hustling for balls and tracking down rebounds… we outrebounded them as a team today… It’s been a big part of something that we’re really working on, rebounding the ball at both ends of the floor.”

RMU also recorded 10 steals, with four takeaways in the first six minutes of action. The Colonials found consistent success off the dribble against the Penguins early in the first quarter, with RMU guards making nice moves to get to the rim and finish.

Robert Morris held a 13-9 lead at the 3:27 mark of the first quarter as Horizon League Freshman of the Week Sol Castro hit a fadeaway in the lane to increase the Colonials’ lead.

Esther Castedo led the Colonials with 5 points after the first 10 minutes of play as RMU continued the tempo throughout the first quarter in route to a 17-15 lead.

Natalie Villaflor entered the game for the first time to start the second quarter and instantly hit a three to provide a spark off the bench, with Dahomée Forgues hitting another triple the next trip down the court for Robert Morris.

“Certain teams are going to play at different ways and you got to be able to knock down the three when they’re playing off you and trying to trace and trying to stop you from getting the ball inside,” Buscaglia said. “We just keep working at it, we took a lot of shots this week at practice, we took a lot of shots today in shoot-around. We’re just trying to get balls up and challenge ourselves to play with a pace and you got to be able to hit them when you’re tired too. The three-pointer was there for most of the game.”

Nneka Obiazor and Mary Dunn, a native of Washington, Pennsylvania, had success against RMU down low, providing the only offensive attack the Penguins received in the early stages of the contest.

YSU kept the score close for most of the first half, chipping away as RMU built-up leads to never feel out of it.

Colonials started getting sloppy with the ball around the midway point of the game but the defense continued to shine, forcing the Penguins into a shot clock violation with 6:07 remaining.

Forbes made a nice move past Dunn after bringing down an offensive board to force a YSU timeout at 3:52 as the Colonials soared to a 7-0 run to build a 32-23 lead.

YSU bounced back after the timeout, however, recording a 7-0 run of their own as the Penguins cut the deficit to a two-point game.

The Colonials did not score in the last four minutes of the first half, taking a 32-30 lead into halftime. The two teams played a relatively clean half in terms of fouls, with only six total and three apiece.

“We were up but the game was close for a lot of the time,” Buscaglia said. “It had to do with just two teams working really hard and I feel like we were able to continue with that tempo, and setting that tone for the game where we were outworking them for the hustle plays for the majority of the time, and that’s what we pride ourselves on.”

YSU tied the game at 32 and kept the Colonials looking for answers. Augustin made a nice play to deflect the ball as it was going out of bounds and throw it off a YSU defender, leading to a Sol Castro jumper to provide RMU’s first points of the half.

Obiazor and Castro battled down low throughout the game with both bigs responding to the other’s success by trading buckets.

RMU battled to increase the lead to 40-34 with 4:27 to go at the first media timeout of the second half as Esther Castedo was shooting a solid 50-percent from downtown.

Robert Morris outplayed YSU with a whopping 26-4 differential in bench points.

“You’ve got to have a rotation that serves off the bench and in the starting lineup,” Buscaglia said. “For us, starting or coming off the bench is not a big focus of importance. Everybody that’s in the game or is ready to come in the game has to be ready to do what the team needs.”

Both team’s offenses went ice cold late in the third quarter, and the Penguins struggled with Obiazor sitting on the bench. Leading 44-39 after 30 minutes of play, Sydney Palermo hit two early buckets for her team’s offense.

Palermo especially provided strong minutes for Buscaglia off the bench.

“When you come off the bench like Sydney did today and finish around the basket pretty well and rip some rebounds that were fifty-fifty and [Sydney] was able to rip them away, that’s what we need from her or anyone that comes off the bench, that aggressive mentality,” Buscaglia said. “That kind of effort of whoever’s in the game can’t have any drop-off by subbing.”

Coach B called time with 5:58 left in the fourth quarter and Robert Morris up 54-44 as the Colonials continued to use the three-ball to their advantage.

RMU slowed down their offense with about five minutes to go in regulation and looked for high-quality shot opportunities.

Robert Morris soon led by 17 points, clinching their third Horizon League victory 61-46 against a Penguins team riding a five-game winning streak heading into Moon Township, controlling the pace and the clock in the last five minutes. Their great defense led to good offense for the Colonials as they never let YSU feel comfortable.

Despite their largest margin of victory on the year, Buscaglia said that multiple adjustments will be made to record a second-straight series sweep.

“We’ll be up all night tonight,” Buscaglia said. “With these night games and the quick turn-around tomorrow, the student-athletes will go to bed tonight and get a good night’s rest and recover, and us as coaches, we’re going to be up and watching video and watching to see what we can find and see what we need to get adjusted for on both ends of the court. We’ve got to tighten some screws up for tomorrow.”

Robert Morris will return to the court Saturday at 5 p.m. for game two against Wright State on ESPN+.