BRIAN DZENIS: YSU men’s basketball making some progress
In short bursts, the Youngstown State men’s basketball program is showing some signs of progress.
The Penguins have taken more losses than victories, got paid to get worked over by power conference teams and padded their win total with a couple games against non-Division I opponents.
They’re a Horizon League team.
At 4-9, the Penguins are pretty much in the same spot as its League peers. Only Northern Kentucky (9-3) and IUPUI (8-4) made it through non-conference play above .500. Cleveland State, Milwaukee and Oakland each have four wins and they’re ahead of 3-8 Detroit Mercy. So they’re at the middle of the pack.
How did they get there? They won two D-I games, an improvement over zero D-1 victories in non-con play in Jerrod Calhoun’s first year. Tack those on to the gimmes against Heidelberg and Westminster and that’s four victories.
It’s nothing to commission a statue over, but it’s something. It’s worth noting that the Penguins have already tied their win total away from Beeghly last year at two games. They also didn’t fare too poorly against high profile opponents. If all one saw of YSU was its first halves against Pitt and Ohio State, the guesses for their win total would be higher than four.
In the 69-53 season-opening loss to Pitt, the Penguins did everything right except shoot threes. Against Ohio State, the Buckeyes remembered they had a size advantage and rode big man Kaleb Wesson to a 75-56 win.
The latter game had the more encouraging signs than the first one. The big one is YSU’s offense has mellowed out, drifting away from the frenetic speed and three style from the beginning of the season. The number of three-pointers attempted has declined in the Penguins last three games and the team is 1-2 in that stretch.
“I give Youngstown State a lot of credit. They controlled the tempo and they played that way a little bit in their last game, but they didn’t really play that way up until this point,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said.
Another one is freshman point guard Darius Quisenberry. He’s rounding into form by reaching double figures in his last three games, including a team-high 17 points against the Buckeyes. So far, he’s the best among the newcomers on the team.
The Penguins are doing well on the glass, averaging a league-high 41.4 a game. Naz Bohannon is the second-best in the nation in terms of offensive rebounds, grabbing 4.42 a game. The rebounds are always there with him, but the points? Not so much, averaging 6.9 this season. If he could turn a couple of those 2 and 10 nights into a 12-10, the Penguins could do some good things.
Combine those two with leading scorer Garrett Covington, a sophomore, there’s the makings of a “big 3” in Youngstown. Young promising players with room to grow offer some light at the end of the tunnel.
The team has taken its share of lumps but it is taking some steps forward. It doesn’t seem like much with a lopsided record, but it’s worth noticing.
Brian Dzenis covers YSU sports for The Vindicator. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter, @Brian_Dzenis.