By Joe Scalzo
The Youngstown State men’s basketball team has played 16 of its 27 games on the road.
The Penguins are coming off road trips to Green Bay and Clarksville, Tenn.
Their starters are averaging 30 or more minutes per game and only one of their seven reserves has scored in the double digits this season. (And that only happened once, when sophomore Nate Perry scored exactly 10 against Toledo on Dec. 17).
But when asked if they’re a tired team — mentally or physically — both sophomore guard Kendrick Perry and head coach Jerry Slocum said no.
“I don’t think we’re tired,” said Perry, whose team lost road games to Green Bay (71-65) and Austin Peay (71-68) last week. “It’s just, we need those couple stops. Those past couple games, we didn’t get those stops when we needed it.
“We’re not a team to make excuses for ourselves, so I don’t think our guys are tired, it’s just mental lapses when we didn’t need them.”
YSU (14-13, 9-7 Horizon) opened camp in mid-October and Slocum said the grind of the season, combined with the excitement of the March tournament, make February a difficult month for every team, not just his.
“February’s a hard month,” Slocum said. “If you look around the country, you can see it everywhere. Very few teams play good during this stretch.
“All of that to say, I think our guys are fairly fresh. I’m not saying last week wasn’t a long or hard week. [But] I don’t think we played poorly. Actually, I think we played pretty good.”
The good news is, YSU finishes the regular season with two home games: Thursday against Wright State and Saturday against Detroit. The Penguins split with the teams in early December, beating the Titans 64-61 before squandering a 17-point second half lead in a 63-62 loss to the Raiders.
A win over Wright State (13-16, 7-9) would give YSU wins over eight of its nine league opponents. (Butler was the only team to sweep the Penguins.)
“I think they’re the hardest-working basketball team in the league,” Slocum said of Wright State.
“They work hard every possession.”
When the Titans (12-4, 10-6) lost to YSU earlier in the year, they were without suspended center Eli Holman and had just lost senior forward Nick Minnerath to a season-ending ACL injury.
Holman returned a few weeks later and the Titans have played as well as anyone in the Horizon League lately, winning five straight and eight of nine.
“They’re the most talented group in the league, hands down,” Slocum said of Detroit. Now whether they end up playing together, well, that’s one thing. But they’re a good basketball team.”
A win this week would give the Penguins a first-round home game in the Horizon League tournament, which begins Feb. 28.
Tired or not, that would be a huge boost for the Penguins, who have only hosted a tournament game twice before.
“Once you get into the playoffs, obviously it’s a one-and-done and you have to play your heart out,” Slocum said. “We’re capable. If we can get to that neutral site, we’ve shown we can beat anybody in our league.”