The Youngstown State men's basketball team got a taste of what it's like playing against a Top 25 team Saturday against Butler.
For the first 20 minutes it tasted pretty good to the Penguins, then the Bulldogs turned that taste sour in the second half.
Actually, the Bulldogs set the tone in the very first possession of the second half. They didn't score but took three 3-point shots and got three offensive rebounds and then turned the game completely around the rest of the way.
Poor stretch: For Youngstown State's young team, the effort was a good one. The one lapse, which lasted over seven minutes and saw the Penguins score just two points while turning the basketball over seven times, also helped turn the game in Butler's favor.
The Penguins led for much of the first half and trailed only by five, 35-30, at the intermission, and the Bulldogs scored five points in the final minute, including a bucket at the buzzer off a steal.
YSU coach John Robic said those first few possessions of the second half were the difference in the game.
"I told our kids after the game that we have gotten better," he said.
Robic said the difference between the first and second half was that YSU started taking quick shots in the second half.
"Young kids will take the quick shot more," Robic said, "and for a big part of this game we had three freshmen in there.
"Ever since the UW-Milwaukee game we have worked very hard in practice and we are not taking those quick shots in practice," he added. "We are going with a lot of young kids right now and that leads to some interesting things."
In comparison: Robic was asked about his impression of the Horizon League compared to the Mid-Continent Conference, which the Penguins left last season.
"I've only seen four teams so far, but I'd have to rank us near the bottom right now. This league is a huge jump from the Mid-Con. It's like night and day."
Even though the Penguins are getting better, it will still be a long shot for them to find another victory in league play.
The Penguins have had less talent than any of the four league teams they have played, and that includes Wright State, which they beat for their only Horizon League victory.
Butler had four players on its roster standing 6-foot-10 or taller, while the Penguins' biggest regular is 6-7. Although they hold their own with most everybody on the boards, they are unable to stop the easy buckets under the hoop, and Butler got plenty of them, especially in the second half.
Freshmen Brian Underwood, Jimmy Moore and Brian Radakovich are all going to be solid players for the Penguins, but they need a big man to go with them.
Senior leader: The Penguins will still rise and fall behind the play of senior guard Ryan Patton. The Parma native is among the league leaders in scoring and assists and his leadership on the floor is invaluable.
Saturday night, Patton made two impressive baskets. One came on a driving reverse layup when few believed he could even get off a shot, then later, as the shot clock was winding down, he launched a fall-away jump shot that went into the basket.
Patton said the players are frustrated because they know that if they were playing hard for all 40 minutes they would have had a chance to win a lot more games.
"We work hard in practice, the coaches provide us with a great scouting report. We know exactly what the other team is going to do both on offense and defense, but for some reason we just can't put it all together," Patton added.
Patton said the team wasn't intimidated by Butler's national ranking.
"We thought it was a great opportunity for us. We go into every game confident that we can win it," he said. "This was no different. And we proved that in the first half of play."
XPete Mollica covers YSU athletics for The Vindicator. Write to him at email@example.com.