By Chris McBride
Following a tough four-game losing skid, the Youngstown State University Men’s Basketball team found its footing at home against Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Their previous matchup ended in an 92-78 loss to University of Illinois at Chicago after UIC went on a three-point shooting clinic closing the game on a 17-6 run.
Following that game, YSU Head Coach Jerrod Calhoun criticized the teams play in closing moments.
“It all comes down to the last eight minutes in every game,” Calhoun said in reference to the past four losses.
“I don’t think our toughness is there yet, I don’t think we know how to get over that hump yet,” he said.
It seems the team took heed of those criticisms when playing against IUPUI.
Youngstown State (6-15, 4-4 Horizon League) started off strong offensively and never looked back after building a 24-point first-half lead. The game put YSU in the top half of the Horizon League standings.
A stout defensive performance and an explosive offense shooting over 50 percent helped secure a 85-62 win for the Penguins.
Four Penguins scored in double figures including Cameron Morse’s 23 points, Garrett Covington with 15, Braun Hartfield and Jaylen Benton both with 12 points.
Towards the end of the first YSU led 48-35.
Over 30 former YSU men’s basketball program associates gathered at halftime to be recognized for their time at YSU. The moment saw players such as total assists leader Bruce Timko, Canton native Billy Johnson and Ron Allen, one of 23 1,000-point scorers for Youngstown State among others honored.
The former players, spanning across multiple eras, took the time to exchange words of wisdom to the current crop of Penguins. Their words had a profound effect on players and coaches alike.
“It was real good for us seeing those guys and where they are in life now,” Benton, whose 12 points were instrumental in the victory, said. “With me being a senior, that’s real big for me seeing that that could be me a few years down the road.”
For Calhoun, the moment ignited strong emotions as he told his staff there was “no way we lose this game” with all the YSU legends in attendance. Afterwards, he credited them for being the reason they came out on top.
A determined Calhoun translated that energy into his players as they came out of the half ready to play.
Getting back into action, the Jaguars showed faint signs of life as the offense slowly chipped away at the lead to get the game within five. It seemed as though the game might have been about to take a turn for the worse for YSU.
A narrative the young Youngstown State team has been haunted by is their inability to close out games. However, the push from the IUPUI was only temporary.
With a Covington layup assisted by Devin Haygood, the Penguins then launched into a 17-2 scoring run with around 11 minutes left in the second. Morse would lead the pack scoring 13 of his 23 in the deciding moments of the game.
Another 12-0 scoring rout for the YSU helped to finally put the game to rest.
While the offense was clicking for the Penguins, the story was their defense.
A full court press by YSU disrupted the Jaguars throughout the game despite them shooting a sound 48 percent from the field.
“That’s as close as I’ve seen this team play to the way I want to play every night,” said Calhoun about the his team’s performance.
What does that vision look like for Coach Cal? He listed: “Fast paced, nine or 10 guys subbing in and out, shooting threes, getting dunks, turning people over, getting to the glass, sharing the basketball and letting the ball talk,” Calhoun said.
YSU would not be deterred as it forced 16 turnovers which it converted into 23 points. One of those turnovers, a strip from Hartfield helped contribute to the scoring run. Also worth mentioning, YSU outrebounded IUPUI by 20 despite the size disadvantage.
Now YSU will visit the Horizon League foe Milwaukee Panthers with tip off set for 8 p.m. in UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.