Penguins are rolling after very slow start


By Brian Dzenis

bdzenis@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Youngstown State isn’t the team coach Jarrod Calhoun envisioned in the offseason and that’s not a bad thing.

The Penguins (5-11, 3-0) have evolved from a team that struggled to beat Division III Westminster and gave up 80-plus points a night to Division I teams to one that is tied for first place in the Horizon League while riding a school-record start to League play.

It wasn’t just a matter of improving slowly while taking Ls to tougher non-conference opponents. Serious changes were made to how the team plays at both ends of the floor and a veteran player is playing better in a new role.

“You didn’t envision Cameron Morse as a point guard. You don’t envision losing so many early games,” Calhoun said Monday. “We’re not where we need to be as far as the playing style as far as pressing for 40 minutes.

“We had to change as a coaches. You have to adapt to your team. You have to adjust to what you’ve got and I think we’ve done a good job of that.”

Defensively, the full-time press has been demoted to part-time deployment. For the season, the Penguins are giving up an average of 81.9 points a game — the second worst mark in the league — but they haven’t let a team cross the 80-point mark in four games.

“When we pressed, maintaining it for 40 minutes was tough,” sophomore Braun Hartfield said. “[Calhoun] has cut down on it and it works.”

It’s safe to say Morse is out of his slump from earlier in the season. For the first time this season, he’s strung together three games of shooting at least 45 percent. It’s a feat that he’s done throughout his sophomore and junior seasons, but this week, it helped him earn the Horizon League’s Player of the Week honors.

Morse has been pressed into service as a point guard thanks to injuries to Francisco Santiago and Jeremiah Ferguson and has taken well to the role.

“He’s not just a scorer now. He’s a distributor and a facilitator,” Calhoun said. “My message to Cam has been ‘this will help you long term.’

“If you want to play basketball overseas or play for a living, you have to help make others better. I think he’s helping the other guys on the floor really good looks.”

Morse’s efficiency streak coincided with the first time YSU has shot more than 40 percent in against D-I opponents for three straight games. The Penguins’ offense has slowed slightly, but its total shot numbers per game — usually between 55 to 65 a game — haven’t dipped too far from where they were during their nine game losing streak. YSU averaged 17.4 turnovers a game in December, but that number has dropped to 13 with the flip of the calender.

“I think its the guys valuing the basketball. We’ve had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in the last three games,” Calhoun said. “When you keep the ball in bounds and take high percentage shots, it gives you a chance to win games.

“The players have a tendancy to go for the home run play — I was that way as a player — and you have to make the simple plays and we’ve done that.”

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