By Marc Weems
The Youngstown State University men’s basketball team is very young. That is no secret for this team, but that isn’t slowing them down any.
Despite losses to the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Akron, YSU got a test from Division III Heidelberg University on Monday that helped the program tremendously.
“I thought Heidelberg had a great game plan. Their coach did a tremendous job,” YSU Head Coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “That game was really good for our young guys. They had to battle back from a little adversity. The style of play was also really good for us. It made our young guards handle the ball and advance the ball. At times, we looked really good and then we looked like we have a lot to work on.”
Heidelberg took YSU to the ropes for a good part of the game. YSU led just 47-39 at halftime. The Student Princes cut the Penguins lead to 56-54 with 15:33 left in the second half before YSU finished the game on a 50-29 tear.
“You know what happens, I think in these games, these players want to get up 20-0 in the first minute and you can’t do that. Especially with a young group,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun also mentioned how good each level of basketball (Divisions I, II, III, NAIA) is and how much that helps YSU when they play DIII opponents.
In their first two games against Pitt and Akron, YSU held strong through the first half but fell apart in the second half. The Penguins are being outscored by 7.3 per game and by 8.3 in the second half. YSU is outscoring opponents by one per game in the first half so far.
Despite a 1-2 record, the Penguins have showed signs of great life. They are outrebounding teams by nearly 5.5 per game, are averaging two more assists per game and are averaging two more blocks per game.
“You’re playing a freshman point guard, a backup freshman point guard and a point guard that hasn’t played in a year,” Calhoun said on his current point guard situation. “Our paint touches haven’t been as good as we’d like. We put a big emphasis on that.”
In YSU’s first two games, they were outscored 90-42 in the paint. Against Heidelberg, YSU had 58 points to their 28 in the paint.
“We’ve seen everything. We played an ACC team on the road, we’ve played a really good Akron team. They started three four-year players and a fifth-year player,” Calhoun said on YSU’s challenges so far. “When we added the years up, it was 18 to 10. I know what I got myself into in Youngstown. We are going to work our tails off to get this thing right.”
YSU now has a great test ahead of them. The Penguins are part of the Johnny Bach Classic hosted by Fordham University. They will play Columbia University on Nov. 16, Fordham on Nov. 17 and then Florida International University on Nov. 18. YSU’s next home game is against Westminster College on Nov. 21.
“We just have a lot to work on. Technique, positioning and helping the helper. It’s a lot of things,” forward Garrett Covington said.
YSU’s biggest issue so far has been turnovers. The Penguins are coughing up 18 turnovers per game which has turned into 23 points per game off turnovers so far this year.
YSU has some time to prepare for these games, but Calhoun is hoping for more than just good games.
“It’s going to be a really neat deal. We are going to go a day early so we are going to see some things and explore New York City,” he said. “More importantly, we are going there to try and set up our non-conference schedule to where we’d like it to be.”
“We all know how tough it is schedule-wise in mid-major basketball,” Calhoun said. “We’ve got to win some games in New York. We’ve got to set ourselves up for a good non-conference record.”