By Chris McBride
A regular season filled with ups and downs for the Youngstown State University Men’s Basketball team will come to an end this Saturday against Cleveland State University. It’ll be a pitch perfect note to end on for former CSU assistant coach and now current YSU Head Coach Jerrod Calhoun.
In their last three games, the Penguins (8-22, 6-11) split a two-game home stand. They beat Oakland, 75-73, after a put back by Garrett Covington at the buzzer helped YSU steal a victory. Their second home game was a 94-84 loss to the University of Detroit Mercy.
Playing in their final road game, it came in the form of a loss to one of the league’s top teams, Northern Kentucky University. YSU lost 70-51.
With the season winding down, finishing strong will be the name of the game coming into the Cleveland State (8-22, 5-12 HL) game.
Early in the season, the Penguins beat the Vikings after Cameron Morse knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer to make the game 80-77. The Penguins shot the ball to the tune of 56.4 percent on the game against 45.8 percent shooting of CSU.
Coming into the second half YSU had led by 11 and would never trail despite letting the Vikings creep back into the game late. Blowing that lead would prove to be an omen for how the season would go for YSU as they’ve struggled maintaining late leads throughout the year.
“We’ve been in every game really until the final seven or eight minutes of all these games — that’s the thing that hurts,” Calhoun said.
Maintaining a lead will be essential as the Penguins have struggled with inconsistent defense and offense year round. Despite being top five in team points per game with 74.9, YSU is giving up 81.1 points. Opposing teams are shooting nearly 50 percent from the field.
With both teams bearing similar Horizon League records, the game will have an added layer of importance.
“It kind of sums up the Horizon league this year,” Calhoun said. “It’s been very erratic, games where anybody can beat anybody on any given night. It’s only fitting to see the league crowned in the last two games.”
Calhoun will be looking to enter tourney play in Detroit as either a fifth or sixth seed depending on how things play out.
No matter where YSU fits into the standings at the season’s end, Calhoun made it clear that “all bets are off” heading into tourney play.
Aside from the game, the night will hold more significance as it will be Senior Night.
The Penguins have four seniors on their roster: Cameron Morse, Jaylen Benton, Ryan Strollo and Francisco Santiago. Santiago will be the only senior that will not play against CSU due to injury.
All season long the storyline has been how Morse has assumed the role Santiago once carried as the facilitator on offense, running the point and kick starting the offense. It’ll be the final chance for Morse to chase all-time YSU records as he plays his final game in Beeghly Center.
Calhoun spoke about both YSU Men’s and Women’s basketball teams and the importance the night has in honoring these athletes.
“It’s important for both the men and women regardless of the records for either teams,” Calhoun said. “All those seniors on both teams have put a lot into this university not only in the sport they’re playing but the academic side of things. All these of kids are going to graduate.”
For their final showing, Calhoun is hoping for 5,000 to 6,000 fans to come out to show support.
Youngstown State will conclude regular season play against Cleveland State here at home Feb. 25, with tipoff at 7 p.m.