By Pete Mollica
YOUNGSTOWN — Ready or not, the games that really count for the Youngstown State men’s basketball team will begin Thursday night and for the Penguins it all begins on the road.
On Thursday, the Penguins (3-3) will travel to Detroit to open play in the Horizon League and then will follow that on Saturday night with another conference matchup at Wright State.
The game against the Titans (4-2) will tip off at 7 p.m. in Calihan Hall.
“I think we’re ready,” said YSU coach Jerry Slocum. “We’ve seen a lot of different styles over the last six games and we’ve played some very good teams.”
“Detroit is much improved,” he added. “They brought in some transfers and they always play very well at home. Wright State is one of the favorites to win it all in the conference and is loaded with juniors and seniors.
“I think that we’ve played a schedule as tough as either of those teams,” Slocum said. “In fact, the only conference team that has played a tougher schedule would be Butler.”
The Penguins are coming off a 72-56 loss at Pittsburgh, a team that reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament a year ago. In that game the Penguins were deadlocked with the Panthers at 42-42 with about 11 minutes remaining.
Seniors Kelvin Bright and DeAndre Mays led the way offensively with 20 and 16 points respectively, while senior Dallas Blocker set a Petersen Events Center record for most steals by an opposing player with five.
Detroit is led by 6-foot-10 sophomore Eli Holman, a transfer from Indiana, who is averaging 14.5 points and 10.3 rebounds in the first six games.
Bright thinks the Penguins are ready.
“I think we’re ready, but we’ve got to be physically and mentally tough,” he said. “On the road you really have to be ready mentally.”
“We know that we have some great offensive talent, so it’s all going to come down to defense and are we able to get those extra defensive stops,” Bright added.
The Titans, who are averaging 71.5 points a game, have three other players averaging in double figures. They had a four-game winning streak snapped last weekend by DePaul 68-66 in overtime. They have played just one home game this year, beating Western Michigan 86-80.
“Detroit is a totally different team than they were a year ago,” Slocum said. “They’ve got a new coach and he’s brought in a lot of new players.”
“If we don’t take care of the ball and rebound well we have no chance against them,” he added.
The Penguins have handled the Titans well recently winning five of the last six meetings, but the Titans hold the overall lead in the series 18-7.
Last season Detroit snapped a four-game losing streak to YSU by winning a 68-64 overtime contest at Beeghly Center, but the Penguins rebounded in the last meeting at Detroit to post an 80-78 win.
Slocum said that the Horizon League is one of the last leagues that still plays its league contest on a Thursday-Saturday rotation.
“A lot of league are switching their dates around, but in our league unless you are playing both Chicago teams you have a lot of driving to get from Thursday’s game to Saturday’s,” he said. “It is really tough on the road teams.”
“But it is what it is and you can’t overreact to it negatively,” he said. “After Christmas we’ll have five straight at home, plus we’ll have three of our road league games out of the way.”
The Penguins will also play at Green Bay on Dec. 19 before returning home to play five straight beginning Dec. 22 against High Point.