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Ed Puskas: YSU must play better defense

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Jerrod Calhoun wants the Youngstown State men’s basketball team to defend its home court.

But the Penguins seem to play better defense away from Beeghly Center and that has to change if they’re going to win with any consistency.

Case in point: YSU’s 78-66 loss to Detroit Mercy on Friday in the Horizon League opener for both teams.

The Titans’ Antoine Davis scored 27 points, including seven 3-pointers — some seemingly launched from Liberty Township — and four other players scored in double figures for UDM (4-9, 1-0 Horizon League).

The Titans shot 50 percent (28 of 56) from the floor, which allowed them to weather a second-half run by the Penguins. YSU (4-10, 0-1) rallied from a 52-37 deficit early in the second half and actually led 56-55 when Garrett Covington’s layup capped an 19-3 run with 10:21 to play.

The comeback was sparked by a switch to full-court pressure.

“I just felt, at that point in the game, Davis was feeling it,” Calhoun said. “I made the executive decision to kind of speed this game up and create some turnovers and it worked for a long period of time.”

But while a flurry of UDM turnovers did allow YSU to get back into the game, the Penguins’ familiar problems — defending opposing shooters, making their own shots and taking care of the basketball — did them in.

Davis, who led the Horizon League in scoring (26 points per game) through non-conference play, is going to get his numbers. Calhoun compared him to Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry.

But teammates Josh McFolley (14 points), Derrien King (13), Harrison Curry (12) and Lamar Hamrick (10) also made shots.

McFolley and Hamrick were a combined 8 of 10 from the floor.

“We have really, really struggled for whatever reason at home, in particular [on defense],” Calhoun said. “Overall, we’re not very good at it yet either, but at home we’re really bad at playing defense. I’m not really sure what the problem is with that.”

It wasn’t even the 27 points by Davis — the son of UDM coach Mike Davis — or the 78 points the Titans finished with that bothered Calhoun.

“We’ve like to be around 72 or 73, but what’s more important is the percentage that they’re shooting at,” he said.

“When teams come into your building and consistently shoot 50 percent from the field and almost 50 (12 of 26) from 3, you’re not really going to beat anybody. You’re just kidding yourself.”

Defense is critical because YSU has stretches when it doesn’t well or take care of the ball. The Penguins were 24 of 64 (37.5 percent) from the floor and had 19 turnovers against the Titans.

It didn’t help that the Penguins were without sophomore forward Naz Bohannon, their top rebounder and best passer.

Bohannon also will miss Sunday’s home game against Oakland with what Calhoun called a potentially “serious” medical issue.

Junior guard Devin Morgan also did not play, but that was Calhoun’s decision.

There is little time to fret about this one. The Penguins will get another chance to defend their home court against the Golden Grizzlies.

“We have another game in less than 48 hours,” said Cathcart, who led YSU with 17 points.

Write Vindicator Sports Editor Ed Puskas at epuskas@vindy,com and follow him on Twitter, @EdPuskas_Vindy.