By Dan Hiner
The Youngstown State University men’s basketball team seems to have turned their year around early this season. After starting the season 0-4, YSU has won three straight games and has a chance to reach .500 on Wednesday during its game against Robert Morris University.
“For us to be able to win three in a row, to do two out of three on the road … we’re playing better. I’d like to give you some major intellectual answer, but we’re just playing better,” Jerry Slocum, YSU head coach, said. “Again, with young guys I think it’s a process. I don’t think we’re where we want to be at but, they’re playing better. We’re playing harder, we’re doing a lot better job defensively and we’re getting the ball in the post better. We’re just better basketball players, and when you have a young team like we have, kids like Latin Davis, Cisco [Francisco Santiago] and those guys, I mean, everyday they’re getting better in front of you.”
Robert Morris (1-6) started this season 0-6, but picked up its first win against Mississippi Valley State University. Colonials’ guard Rodney Pryor is averaging 19.4 points and seven rebounds per game. Forward Elijah Minnie is averaging 12.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
“I have a lot of respect for Robert Morris. They’re a perennial NCAA or NIT team over the last five years,” Slocum said. “They might have had as difficult a schedule as anybody else in the country. They’ve been on the road, and they’ve been all over the country. I believe they only have one home game. They’ve played everybody tight. They’re kind of a young group too, trying to find their way — real young in the backcourt.
“The Pryor kid is really, really good. The Minnie kid … those are two kids that would be all-league in our league. They clearly have some good players. They’re coming off their first win. If you look at that schedule, that’s probably as crazy as it gets in terms of being on the road and traveling. So I have a lot of respect for them. They’ll come in and play very hard. They’re very gifted offensively. We’re going to have to play a really good game.”
Slocum said YSU would have to improve its play at home if the Penguins want to continue to improve this season. In order to do that, Slocum said the players would have to learn to eliminate distraction while at home.
“It’s important that we have to play better at home. When you play as many road games as we’ve had to play, you learn early to nut up and grit up on the road,” Slocum said. “There’s that sense of unity and pride on the road because you’re playing in hostile environments like at Kent [State University], like at Florida Gulf Coast [University] you really have the kids’ attention. You’re with them all day, you’re with them on the trip, you can kinda control the distraction and the noise around them. We have not found that formula at home so far. Even at the end of last year, but even this year, we have played somewhat of distracted. We have an opportunity to play some home games and we have to play better at home. There’s no doubt about it.”