By Joe Scalzo
Losing point guard D.J. Cole hasn’t left Youngstown State defenseless.
Cole suffered an ankle injury during last Wednesday’s 83-79 loss to Kent State, missing the second half of that game and all of last Saturday’s 88-86 loss to Austin Peay.
“We definitely missed him last week,” Penguins coach Jerry Slocum said. “He keys us defensively.
“I felt like we played pretty good last week but did not get the stops we needed to get.”
When asked to pinpoint the defensive struggles, senior forward Kamren Belin said, “We’ve got to contain the dribble. Breakdowns happen and our help defense gets in foul trouble. We’ve got to contain the dribble better.”
True freshman Marcus Keene started in Cole’s place against Austin Peay, scoring 12 points with nine assists and five rebounds. But for all of Keene’s offensive prowess — he’s averaging 10.2 points per game in just 22.7 minutes — he’s still a defensive liability, Slocum said.
“Like I said to you guys [two weeks ago], he’s a talented offensive player but he has a long way to go defensively,” Slocum said. “He is getting better every day but his basketball IQ at the defensive end needs to be better. I’m just being honest.”
Cole did not practice Monday and is questionable for Wednesday’s game against Robert Morris.
The Colonials (3-5) are 9-4 all-time against the Penguins and have won seven straight in the series but have struggled this season, going 1-5 in road games.
“This is a veteran, scrappy, back-to-the-wall kind of game,” Slocum said. “I anticipate just a tremendous effort from them. It’s a good basketball team.
“We’ve been there, where we’ve opened five or six on the road like that and they’ve played all good people.”
Senior guard Karvel Anderson (18.1 points per game) and junior wing Lucky Jones (12.3) lead the Colonials, who are averaging 73 points per game. Problem is, they’re also giving up 79.8.
With road games against UMKC and Pittsburgh looming, Wednesday’s game gives the Penguins a good opportunity to snap a two-game losing streak and gain some confidence.
“We need a win,” said Belin, who scored a career-high 32 points against Austin Peay. “But we need to stop beating ourselves. I feel like the last two games weren’t exactly losses. We beat ourselves.
“That’s a good thing and a bad thing. We shouldn’t beat ourselves. But the good thing is we did beat ourselves. The other team didn’t do it.”