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Reasons to be thankful for YSU men

Thursday is a day to give thanks for the blessings we have, hence the holiday Thanksgiving.

The Youngstown State University men’s basketball team is thankful winning two of three games this past week against North Carolina Central and University of South Carolina-Upstate, both with staunch defensive efforts.

Offensively, the Penguins, 3-3, are trying to find their niche in their non-conference schedule.

YSU may only score 68 points a game, but it only allows the same to its first six opponents, which includes a then No. 5-ranked Louisville team — one that has proven to be better than a former No. 1-ranked Kentucky team, which was upended by Evansville and tested by Utah Valley State this month.

The Penguins gave up around 60 points per game in those two wins. So far, this is one of Jerrod Calhoun’s best defensive teams since he took over in late March of 2017.

This is far from a team where 80 to 90 points was the norm as it has only happened once this year in Thursday’s loss at Akron, 82-60, one of the best teams in the Mid-American Conference.

Free-throw shooting was an Achilles’ heel for the Penguins early on this season, hovering around 55 percent. Now, it’s close to 70 percent as YSU shot better than 83 percent from the charity stripe in three separate games.

YSU shot 25 of 32 from the line Saturday at USC-Upstate, most of that from hard-driving sophomore guard Darius Quisenberry, who was 15 of 20 from the line. He said during Monday’s press conference that performance was acceptable.

These Penguins are making strides.

Wins and losses this non-conference season might be the biggest tell-tale sign for YSU as it has seven games remaining before Horizon League play begins at the end of the calendar year.

There is nearby Westminster on Wednesday at home. That is one of five games in Youngstown, including a Dec. 21 matchup with West Virginia at the Covelli Centre, starting at 1 p.m.. That is the second game of a three-game contract with the Mountaineers. That game features WVU posts Derek Culver (Warren G. Harding High School) and Oscar Tshiebwe (Kennedy Catholic).

In between Westminster (4-1) and WVU (4-0), the Penguins are at Central Michigan (5-1), vs. Robert Morris (1-6), at Western Michigan (4-3), vs. Southeast Missouri State (2-2) and vs. Binghamton (3-3).

These Penguins could be 7-6 before Horizon League play. The Penguins have not had a winning non-conference slate since the 2014-15 season, but YSU went 2-14 during Horizon League play that season. YSU had winning non-conferences the previous two years when it won 15 and 18 games.

That was a different Horizon League then. This year, as it has been the previous two years, is for the most part, a wide-open league.

Defense, free-throw shooting and Youngstown-based non-conference games. This YSU team has plenty to be thankful for this week.

Ask Calhoun, he is thankful for something much more significant — one that tells more than wins, losses or other pertinent statistics.

“The biggest thing is the relationships,” he said. “I think these kids all get along really well. I think they’ve grown with each other. I’m thankful for the type of kids we have in our program and really good people.”

Being around them the last couple of years, it is one of the significant things that makes this YSU program one to remember — something Penguins fans can be quite thankful for having this holiday season.