By Pete Mollica
YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State men’s basketball coach Jerry Slocum knows that his Penguins have a monumental task awaiting them over the next three weeks.
The Penguins (3-2) will play five straight road games over that three-week span and it begins Saturday against defending Big East champion Pittsburgh in a noon tip-off at the Peterson Events Center in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins will follow that encounter with the opening of their Horizon League schedule. They will play back-to-back games at Detroit (Dec. 3) and at Wright State (Dec. 5).
After squeezing in a contest at St. Francis, Pa. (Dec. 16), the Penguins will finish the road trip with another conference matchup at Green Bay (Dec. 19).
YSU is coming off Tuesday’s easy victory over Division III Geneva College, 88-47 at home. The Penguins had their best shooting night of the season, hitting 50 percent from the field and 47 percent from the 3-point line.
“This is definitely a monumental task we have ahead of us,” Slocum said Wednesday. “And we have to stay patient during this time.
Playing three conference games on the road before the new year begins isn’t something that the fifth-year head coach is excited about, but it could work in the Penguins’ favor.
“At the start of the new year we’ll have already played three road games in the conference and that means we only have five more the rest of the season,” Slocum said.
Pitt will definitely be the biggest obstacle for the Penguins over the five-game stretch. The Panthers (4-1) will come into the contest off their first loss of the season, a 78-62 defeat at the hands of Texas in the finals of the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic in Kansas City.
They opened the season with four straight victories, beating Wofford (63-60), Binghamton (71-46) and Eastern Kentucky (70-61) all at home and Wichita State in the opening round of the O’Reilly Classic (68-54).
“What can you say about Pitt?” Slocum said. “This is a team that has compiled the best record in the Big East over the last six years. We know we are going to have our hands full.”
“We definitely have to shoot well and rebound well,” he said. “We can’t afford to give them those second-chance shots at the basket. And we have to keep them off the foul line.”
Slocum also feels that the Penguins have to improve on their free throw shooting, which hasn’t been very good.
In five games, the Penguins have made 81 of 125 shots from the line.
“It’s critical that we shoot well from the line,” Slocum said. “Against Kent State, we had several one-on-one situations where we missed the first shot and that’s just like committing another turnover.”
This will be the seventh meeting between the two teams and Pitt holds a 5-1 advantage.
The Panthers won the last meeting in 2003 at the Peterson Events Center 57-42 and also won there in 1993 112-66.
YSU’s only win in the series came in 1976 in Youngstown, 78-73.