The players hope to gain some momentum by finishing out the regular season at home before starting the Horizon League tournament.
By JON MOFFETT
Vindicator Sports Staff
YOUNGSTOWN — When it comes to Youngstown State men’s basketball, there is no place like home.
And while the Penguins aren’t clicking their heels together, the players understand the importance of their final homestand of the season. YSU will close out its regular season with games at the Beeghly Center Feb. 25 and 27.
“It’s really important, because we need to get a little bit of an advantage going into the tournament,” senior forward Dallas Blocker said of the home games. “We need to get our game back, get our heads right and help everybody get our confidence back to know that we can beat any of these teams.”
The home games are critical for the Penguins (8-19, 2-14 Horizon League) as both contests are conference games. The Penguins are 6-7 at home and could use the games to gain momentum heading into postseason play.
YSU will play Wright State (Thursday) and Detroit (Saturday) as its final warm-ups before the Horizon League Tournament begins Tuesday.
“We’re looking at these next two games as motivational games as we push forward into the playoffs,” said senior guard DeAndre Mays. “We’re looking at these two games as a way to get better at the things we need to get better at so that we can succeed in the playoffs.”
Mays said the things the team must work on are mostly mental. Of the Penguins’ 19 losses, five have been by six points or fewer. And Mays says if the ball had bounced a different way, the team would look much different in the win column.
As one of the senior leaders on the floor, Mays said the ball is in his court.
“As the point guard, I need to take care of the ball and be a leader at all times; that’s something we’ve stressed all year,” he said. “As a team, we need to take care of the ball as a whole because if we take care of the ball, we’re in every game.”
The YSU men are coming off perhaps the most heart-breaking loss of the year. The Penguins traveled to Riverside, Calif., for its annual BracketBuster game, and left the West Coast with a 62-60 loss on a buzzer-beater with 0.3 left.
“If we would’ve taken care of the ball and made some shots, we would’ve come out on top,” Mays said.
Mays said the trip was “brutal” and Blocker said the five-hour plane ride is something he doesn’t want to do again.
“Oh man, that’s a far trip,” said Blocker, a native of Topeka, Kan.
But the Penguins must leave the sunshine and glamour of Southern California behind if they wish to avoid jet lag against Wright State.
The Raiders (18-10, 11-5) are in second place in the Horizon League, and defeated the Penguins 67-54 earlier this year. The team could pose problems for YSU with its speed.
“They’re more of a fast-paced kind of team,” the 6-foot-9 Blocker said. “But they’ve got some big bodies who like to get some offensive rebounds So we’re kind of expecting a tough and physical kind of game.”
Senior Todd Brown and junior Vaughn Duggins, both guards, each average double-digit points. Duggins averages 14.5 points per game, which leads the team, and Brown adds another 13.1.
As a team, the Raiders average 68 points per game and shoot 44 percent. YSU average 67 points per game and is shooting 42 percent.
Mays said it’s important he and his teammates take advantage of the final two home games. The road to the Horizon League Championship won’t go through Youngstown and the Penguins have had their share of woes on the road.
“When you’re on the road, you’ve got no fans and nobody is rooting for you,” he said. “But at home, we can actually gain some momentum and hopefully get a snowball effect.”