For a still-young Youngstown State University men’s basketball team, a trip to St. Thomas might seem like nothing but fun. For the Penguins, it was nothing but business as they played in three exhibition games on the island. After a 12-20 season in Jerrod Calhoun’s second season as head coach, the Penguins need all the chemistry it can handle.
“These trips can really benefit your team. Cleaning things up with the returning guys, working on some things. It’s been an awesome ten days,” YSU Head Coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “I think we’ve done a really nice job in our practices of getting better, helping one another and our communication has gotten better.”
Last year’s six-game win streak gave Penguin faithful things to hope for. YSU finally showed the Horizon League that it had some fight after all. The Penguins beat Oakland and Detroit-Mercy on the road before defeating Milwaukee, Green Bay, IUPUI and UIC at home.
Needing the Chemistry
The Penguins return 10 players from last year. They have just two seniors, Devin Morgan and Donel Cathcart III, and three juniors, Naz Bohannon, Garrett Covington and Michael Akuchie. They bring back five sophomores, along with five new players. Those 10 returning players will be tremendous in the Penguins doing even better than before.
Finding some consistency
For the Penguins, they need to use that type of chemistry for an entire season.
“I think it’s gone very well,” Bohannon said about the Penguins level of communication. “We have two seniors in [Donel Cathcart III] and Devin [Morgan] who have been here for awhile. Me, Garrett and Mike have been here all three years. We’ve been kind of leading the way. We are the older guys so we just talk it out and everyone has a positive approach.”
The Penguins started their road trip with a 74-71 win over Calgary at the University of Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center. They used an 11-0 run over the last 2:45 of the game to come away with the win on Aug. 14.
YSU trailed 71-63 with less than three minutes left. With their defensive pressure, they came away with several steals that led to easy baskets and free throws. After Michael Akuchie’s putback and Darius Quisenberry’s layup cut the Penguins deficit to one, 71-70, Bohannan stole the ball with 24.5 seconds left and his putback off a miss by Quisenberry with 15.6 seconds left gave the Penguins the lead, 72-71.
In the second game of the trip, the Penguins scored nine of the game’s final 10 points to come away with a 90-82 win over the U.S. Virgin Islands All-Star Team on Aug. 15.
Bohannon led the Penguins with 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting with eight rebounds while Covington had 13 points with six rebounds. Jelani Simmons scored 12 points and Akuchie added 11 points.
In a game that featured 15 lead changes and nine ties, the Penguins trailed 77-72 with 4:24 left. Cathcart III split a pair of free throws, Foster converted a 3-point play and Christian Bentley made a layup to give the Penguins a 78-77 lead.
Tied at 81 with 1:23 left, Bentley buried a 3-pointer and Bohannon made a layup with 37 seconds left to push the YSU lead to five, 86-81. Bohannon and Foster sealed the game with a pair of fastbreak dunks.
In the final game of the trip, four players scored in double figures as YSU completed a three-game sweep of its exhibition tour. They defeated Calgary, 71-59, on Aug. 16.
Quisenberry led the Penguins with 16 points while Akuckie posted a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Simmons and Jamir Thomas also reached double figures with 10 points each. Thomas had six rebounds.