×

Busy week for Penguins

Defense, mentality key for YSU?teams

Staff file photo / Brian Yauger Youngstown State’s Naz Bohannon (33) works for position in the Penguins’ game at Louisville on Nov. 10.

YOUNGSTOWN — Focus. The Youngs-town State University men’s basketball team has it this season, looking to improve on its 12-win campaign of the 2018-19 season. The Penguins had a six-game win streak midway through the Horizon League season and is a team that wants to be prevalent during the 2019-20 campaign.

The YSU women’s team has had defense as its calling card since John Barnes took over the program starting in the 2013-14 season.

YSU’s two teams are focused on improving.

Closing out opponents has been an issue for the YSU men in the past. In a 15-point loss Friday, the Penguins couldn’t stop surging Louisiana-Lafayette from a late 12-2 run to close the game.

The Penguins (1-2) were outscored by 12 in the second half after going into the locker room with a three-point advantage and having the lead with less than 10 minutes remaining.

YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun wondered what could he have done, and so did his team.

“The kids didn’t get too down,” he said. “They were just disappointed because that was a good opportunity down there.”

YSU plays host to North Carolina Central (1-2), a team that has been to four NCAA Tournaments since 2014, tonight at 7 p.m. The Penguins are at Akron on Thursday and at the University of South Carolina-Upsate on Saturday.

“It’s a player’s dream to play three games in five days and have very little practice,” Calhoun said. “I teased with our guys (Monday) morning, ‘I wish I could still play.’ This is what it’s about — 120 minutes of basketball. To me it’s a pivotal point in our season. It is early, but at the same time these games are really important. It’s important we keep improving. It’s important our attention to detail is really good this week because you are playing three different opponents.”

Knowing where you are on the floor, making good shots and timely decisions are huge parts of this team’s improvement. The Penguins must make the best of situations — especially in a tightly-contested game.

The Penguins are shooting 55 percent from the foul line. Sophomore guard Darius Quisenberry, who had 18 points on Friday, said muscle memory is key. He is 8-for-10 from the line and is one of the team’s best free-throw shooters.

“Guys have to have that confidence to shoot it as well,” he said. “As our confidence grows, our percentage as a team will grow.”

YSU is shooting below 30 percent from beyond the arc. The movement from the 3-point arc out from 20-feet, 9-inches to 22-1§ isn’t the reason.

“Sometimes we get guys in a rough position to shoot it,” Quisenberry said. “It hurts them as the shot goes up.”

The women’s basketball team struggled against a surprisingly hot-shooting Eastern Michigan team in the first 20 minutes. It took the grind-it-out defensive effort Barnes’ teams have been known for around the Horizon League circles to rally the Penguins to secure Saturday’s victory.

It’s about adjustments for the women’s team, which it made against Eastern Michigan. These Penguins need to be consistent with their defensive going forward, especially facing a tough University of Akron team Wednesday at the James A. Rhodes Arena on the Zips’ campus.

YSU (2-2) is facing a tall task in an Akron team which is 2-1 with wins against St. Bonaventure and Purdue-Fort Wayne. The only setback is a nine-point home loss to Michigan.

The Penguins have allowed an average of almost 80 points per game against Eastern Michigan and in an overtime loss to Kent State. YSU must play better defense against a potent Akron team led by three double-figure scorers. The Penguins’ second-half defense held Eastern Michigan to 31 of its 77 points in the final 20 minutes during YSU’s 18-point comeback. The Eagles shot an insanely good 70 percent in the first quarter and surged ahead to a 15-point halftime lead.

“Defense is something you can always control, how fast you’re going, how hard you’re going,” said freshman guard Mady Aulbach, who sounded more like an experienced senior when she spoke at Monday’s weekly news conference. “If we’re giving 110 percent on defense, that can help us in a lot of games in determining a win or loss by a few points.”

There are nine newcomers on the Penguins’ roster, most who haven’t played college basketball before this season. Barnes knows he must be patient with this young squad, even though he obviously expects more for a YSU team which won 22 games last season.

Consistency, the Penguins have it in junior Chelsea Olson, who averaged a double-double and had a triple-double in the team’s opener.

The Penguins need more consistency going forward and have points of focus against a schedule which is not easy against tough foes like NCAA Tournament teams Robert Morris and Kent State.

“Taking care of the basketball is a big (focus),” Barnes said. “We did a much better job against Eastern Michigan. They’re athletic and fast and put some pressure on. We just did a better job than the previous two games. We’re easily 3-1 if we take care of the basketball with a lot better chance to win that fourth.

“With a lot of young players out there, they’re getting that experience. I thought Mady Aulbach looked a lot more comfortable out there. I thought Jen Wendler had a nice game. Maddie Schires looks a lot more comfortable. A lot of true freshmen playing a lot of minutes are getting more comfortable.”

It’ll just take time and patience for the YSU women.