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Penguins set for homestand

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU’s Tevin Olison passes out to the wing earlier in the season against SIUE during the Penguins’ MTE. YSU hosts Central Michigan tonight.

YOUNGSTOWN — There’s no place like the road — if you’re this year’s Youngstown State basketball team, that is.

Sitting at an unsatisfying 2-3 record, the Penguins went 10 days between games before heading to Wisconsin for a pair of Horizon League contests against Milwaukee and Green Bay. They returned with the program’s first-ever sweep of a Wisconsin road trip, as YSU fended off Milwaukee 70-68 last Thursday before hammering Green Bay 82-58 on Saturday.

Now, the Penguins are set to kick off a three-game home stand, which begins tonight with a 7 p.m. non-league game against Central Michigan.

“That win (against Green Bay) really gave us a lot of confidence, so I feel like we’re going to be really energized coming into the next game,” transfer guard Tevin Olison said.

Olison played a critical role in the Penguins’ successful trip. The NAIA transfer scored 20 against the Phoenix and 18 against Milwaukee.

The key for YSU, though, has been in its committee approach. In each of YSU’s last two wins, four Penguins scored in double figures.

Against the Panthers, Olison’s 18 were a team high, while Owen Long scored 17 (a career high). Shemar Rathan-Mayes and Michael Akuchie each netted 10 points.

Then, against Green Bay, Olison again paced the team with his 20, while Akuchie scored 17 and Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Cohill each netted 15 points.

Continuing that across-the-bard effort will be critical, as YSU is 4-0 when scoring at least 70 points but 0-3 when it finishes under that threshold.

YSU head coach Jerrod Calhoun says the team has made a few adjustments to start rejuvenating the offense following Garrett Covington’s season-ending Achilles injury.

“We’ve really put an emphasis on driving the ball. If we’re open, we want to shoot threes, but the mid-range shot is not a high percentage shot, so we’ve limited some of our mid-range shooting, and I think that’s helped us offensively,” he said.

Calhoun also was pleased with the team’s defensive performance, particularly against Green Bay. He added that he’d like to ramp up the transition game to score more in the fast break.

The Penguins’ first chance at doing so comes tonight, as the 1-7 Chippewas pay the Beeghly Center a visit.

Below the surface of that record, however, is a strength of schedule that any mid-major program would struggle against. CMU’s losing mark includes defeats to Gonzaga (107-54), DePaul (99-66), Kentucky (85-57), Xavier (78-45) and Missouri (78-68).

“If you look at their record, they’re really 1-2,” Calhoun said. The Chippewas’ other two losses were to Western Illinois (97-70) and Bellarmine (76-69).

Calhoun continued, “Let’s be honest. Most low- to mid-major programs are not beating Kentucky, Gonzaga, DePaul, Missouri and Xavier. So I give them a lot of credit.”

In CMU, Olison identifies a team with a lot of size that also is very athletic and shoots the 3-ball well.

“It might be the biggest team we play all year,” he added.

Calhoun, meanwhile, says the Chippewas will throw a few different defenses at YSU, including a 2-2-1, a 2-3 as well as some man-to-man.

Jermaine Jackson Jr. leads CMU in scoring at 11.7 points per game, while Harrison Henderson averages 9.1. Ralph Bissainthe grabs seven rebounds per game.

Then, the team hosts Canisius on Saturday, which stands at 2-7 entering tonight’s contest at Northern Kentucky. Three Golden Griffins average in double figures: Malek Green (15.4 ppg), Armon Harried (12.9) and Jordan Henderson (10.2).

Calhoun emphasized the importance of capitalizing on this homestand, which also includes a Dec. 18 game against Westminster.

“You’ve got to get some momentum heading into Christmas,” Calhoun said. “We’re 2-3 in our non-league so far with four to go. … This team’s got a chance to keep getting better and better. Our focus has been day-to-day. It hasn’t really been about the opponents.”

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