The Penguins finally have momentum entering Friday's game against UW-Green Bay.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Youngstown State men's basketball team hasn't had momentum going into a big game all season like they have right now.
The Penguins are on their longest winning streak of the season -- two games, heading into Friday's 7 p.m. game against Wisconsin-Green Bay Friday night in the Horizon League tournament game at Cleveland State University's Convocation Center.
The Penguins (5-22, 2-14 Horizon) are the No. 9 seed and the Phoenix (7-20, 4-11) are the No. 8 seed. The winner will meet No. 1 seed and regular season champion Butler on Saturday.
"We are going into the tournament with some momentum and that's something new for us," said coach John Robic. "But, we like it.
"We've won both of our last two games because we defended better each game," he said. "A couple of wins sure helps the team morale."
Although during a 13-game losing streak Robic said, "They were frustrated to a point, it never consumed them."
First: This will be YSU's first Horizon tournament after seven Mid-Continent Conference events, where they posted a 4-7 record.
Robic doesn't see Friday's game as just a play-in game.
"It's the No. 9 team against the No. 8 team and when you have an odd number of teams this happens," he said. "They could have done away with the No. 9 seed altogether, but that's what this tournament is all about -- getting all of the league teams involved.
"There is no tomorrow," Robic added. "There are a lot of teams who will be practicing this week for the last time and playing their last game. You have to go all out every game from here on.
"Butler is about the only team in our conference who might get an at-large bid [to the NCAA Tournament] if they don't win," he said. "Everybody else is playing for their life in each tournament game.
"I've told our kids to go out and play hard, have some fun and let the chips fall where they may."
Three freshmen: The Penguins have started three freshmen most of the season. Their leader is 5-foot-10 senior guard Ryan Patton, who led the Horizon League in assists (5.1) and leads the Penguins in scoring with a 14.7 average.
Nobody else in the starting lineup is scoring in double figures, although freshman Doug Underwood, who will come off the bench, is averaging 10.3.
The Penguins' other starters will be 6-2 senior Rafael Cruz (6.0 ppg), 6-7 senior Stephen Flores (6.7), 6-5 freshman Jimmy Moore (7.3) and 6-7 freshman Brian Radakovich (6.4).
Off the bench will be Underwood, a 6-3 guard, 6-6 sophomore TeJay Anderson (9.4), 5-11 sophomore Marlon Williamson (3.5) and 6-6 sophomore Bill Mallernee (4.6).
One of the two: The Phoenix are one of two teams the Penguins defeated in their late-season flourish. YSU beat Wisconsin-Green Bay 69-55 at Beeghly, then beat non-league IP-Fort Wayne in the season finale 78-71.
Wisconsin-Green Bay won the first meeting of the season 53-50, but the Penguins played that game with three starters sick with the flu, including Patton, who played only the final three minutes.
"It will be nice playing in Cleveland because it is so close for us," Robic said. "The kids can go to class on Thursday and then we'll have a shoot-around here early, then go to Cleveland for an hour shoot-around."
Wisconsin-Green Bay is led by 5-10 senior guard DeVante Blanks (13.1) and 6-9 junior center Greg Babcock (11.4, 6.6 rebounds).
The Phoenix just played at Cleveland State a week ago and won 74-66, but they dropped their final game of the season on Monday night to Wisconsin-Milwaukee 76-66.
Schedule: Saturday's action gets underway at noon with No. 4 seed Wright State (17-10) meeting No. 5 Loyola (15-12). No. 1 seed Butler (25-4) plays the winner of the YSU-Wisconsin-Green Bay game at 2:30, then Cleveland State (12-15), seeded No. 7, meets No. 2 seed Detroit (17-11) at 6 p.m. The final game at 8:30 is between No. 3 Wisconsin-Milwaukee (15-12) and No. 6 Illinois-Chicago (17-13).
The semifinals are set for Sunday at 5 and 7:30 p.m. with the championship game Tuesday at 7 p.m. That will be televised live on ESPN.