Penguins prepare for biggest game since joining Horizon League
By Joe Scalzo
Tonight, the Youngstown State men’s basketball team will need to avoid getting too caught up in the emotion of the Beeghly Center crowd.
“It’s easy to get too jacked up and do some silly fouls and silly turnovers and bad shots,” said sophomore guard Kendrick Perry, whose team plays host to Cleveland State in a huge Horizon League matchup. “We know we have to play with our heads and not with our hearts.”
Before we move on, this is probably a good time to acknowledge something: The Penguins ALMOST NEVER have to worry about getting caught up in the emotion of the crowd. It’s like saying, “Greece shouldn’t get too caught up in all the glowing headlines about its economy.” Or, “The Cleveland Browns shouldn’t get too caught up in all their 2013 Super Bowl hype.”
Heck, just six days ago, Perry was asked about the crowd of fewer than 1,000 that witnessed the Penguins’ 30-point shellacking of Green Bay and he had to tiptoe around his answer, explaining that it was a Sunday afternoon and the Penguins just had a good Friday night crowd against Milwaukee and, besides, it sure does get cold in Ohio in January. (OK, he didn’t say that third part.)
Tonight is a different story. The Penguins sold 5,800 tickets by Friday afternoon — 500 short of Beeghly’s capacity — and the team is expecting its best crowd since 6,249 witnessed YSU’s 64-60 win in 2009 over CSU in front of an ESPNU national TV audience.
“It’s been a fun week,” YSU coach Jerry Slocum said on Friday. “I’d be less than honest to tell you it’s not fun to be in this position and it’s not fun for our kids.
“It’s exciting for the university.”
YSU (9-10, 6-3) is off to its best start since joining the Horizon League in 2001-02. The Penguins are a game behind Cleveland State (17-4, 7-2) and a half-game behind Valparaiso and Milwaukee in the standings. YSU already beat the Vikings on New Year’s Eve, “which obviously puts a little flavor in it,” Slocum said.
Add in the fact that it’s a doubleheader night — YSU’s women will play Wright State at 4:35 p.m. — and that Ursuline High graduate D’Aundray Brown is having an all-conference season for the Vikings and it’s not a stretch to say tonight could be the biggest night for YSU basketball in at least a decade.
“To get a win against them would be great not just for our school but for Youngstown as a whole on a national scale,” said Perry, who is fifth in the league in scoring at 14.4 points per game. “We have a chance to open some eyes.”
Slocum entered this season with high expectations, telling reporters he thought the Penguins could finish in the league’s top third. (YSU has never been better than .500 since joining the Horizon League.) But a tough early schedule that included nine of the first 13 games on the road left YSU with a four-game losing streak entering the New Year’s Eve game with the Vikings.
Since then, YSU has won five of seven.
“We knew it was going to be a long season and we weren’t going to let a couple games, whether they were wins or losses, determine the whole season,” said Perry.
That philosophy won’t change tonight, win or lose.
“It doesn’t make your year and it doesn’t end your year,” said Slocum. “But it’d be a big win.”