Two big wins put YSU in great spot in Horizon League; Offensive potency and defensive tenacity keys to continued success

For Youngstown State men's basketball, momentum is on its side. It's about how the Penguins use that going forward.

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Ziggy Reid (#1) drives between NKU defenders in YSU's win on Jan. 28. Photo via YSU Athletics/Robert Hayes

With momentum on its side, the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team is now going on the road to begin solidifying itself at the top of the conference with a good shot of still grabbing that vaunted No. 1 seed in the Horizon League.

With a three-game win streak that included two big wins over the past week, the Penguins still have a long road ahead. Let’s first break down last week and figure out what went so well.

Inside scoring buries IUPUI

After winning by ten back on Jan. 7, the Penguins hit the road to Indianapolis to try and take the season series from the Jaguars.

After being tied at two, the Jaguars (6-17, 2-10 HL) never tied or led the game as the Penguins coasted to a near coast-to-coast victory that YSU (16-6, 8-3 HL) needed to keep pace with Green Bay and Oakland atop the league standings.

YSU controlled nearly every part of this game in regards to rebounding, shooting, and even blocked shots. With the 78-50 road win, the Penguins were able to get some good rest for the starters even after a few had great games. DJ Burns finished with 16 points, and 13 rebounds while Ziggy Reid also had 16 points. Off the bench, EJ Farmer had it going with 15 points while Imanuel Zorgvol had five blocks.

IUPUI’s three best scorers couldn’t find the range almost all night as Bryce Monroe, Jlynn Counter, and Vincent Brady II combined for 27 points on 10-of-36 shooting. That just goes to show the kind of total team defense YSU is capable of playing.

Packed house sees dominate win over Northern Kentucky

After a solid road win, YSU came home and gave the home fans in Youngstown an absolute show. With an attendance of 6,001 at the Beeghly Center, the Penguins had to put on a show to show the appreciation the crowd truly deserved.

“I thought our guys were really focused over the last 48 hours off of our road trip. I can’t thank the people of Youngstown enough. 6,000 fans has to be the biggest crowd of the year in the Horizon League,” head coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “I thought it was just awesome.”

Calhoun also said that his guys were well aware that losing tiebreakers is a big deal in the standings and getting into tournament seeding.

Early in the first half, it was a bit of a back-and-forth affair that eventually saw the Penguins down, 22-14, about halfway through the half. YSU put together a 10-0 that happened in just over two minutes. That put the Penguins in the lead with 8:07 remaining in the half and it never gave it up en route to a 82-52 drubbing of the Norse.

“We’ve been talking about it all week. It’s one of those games that we got to come in and punch them from the jump and that’s what we did,” guard EJ Farmer said.

Unlike the first matchup, YSU’s intensity remained throughout the end of the first half and builded in the second half. In the road loss on Jan. 4, it was Marques Warrick that finished with 29 points. In this game, Warrick was held to just eight points on 2-of-9 shooting.

Just as in the first game of this week against IUPUI, the defensive intensity was much different in a good way. The Penguins seemed very engaged on every possession on the defensive end and that does wonders for a team built with a ton of athleticism.

“Everything was going to start and end with our defense. That’s where we’re at with this group. We talked about if we guard, we can beat anyone in the conference,” Calhoun said.

Road Trip Ahead

Yet another week where YSU men’s hoops is faced with two good road challenges. This time around it’s Wright State on Feb. 1 and Purdue Fort Wayne on Feb. 4.

Against Wright State back on January 12th at home, the Raiders gave the Penguins everything it could. Second-half execution was where YSU pulled away from WSU.

YSU shot 51 percent from the field on the way to a 81-71 win. YSU will need just as good of days all around to win on the road. Winning at the Nutter Center has always been a tough nut to crack for the Penguins in multiple year runs but this team is built to do so.

Reid and Brett Thompson both finished with 20 points and will need that again to win. The defensive intensity being turned up will do a lot for it in this game.

After that game, YSU travels to play PFW on Feb. 4.

In the first game back on Jan. 10, the Penguins defeated the Mastodons, 93-85, but didn’t do so easily. After leading, 45-30, in the first half, PFW turned up the offensive intensity but luckily for YSU, it was a bit late by that point to create enough momentum. Rasheed Bello and Quinton Morton-Robertson combined for 46 of PFW’s 85 and will be called upon to do much of the same.

“You got to have a really good mindset heading into two games on the road against two really good teams. All these games this year in the conference on the road are very difficult. A lot of home teams win those games. I think it’s 66 or 67 percent in our league that the home team is winning that game,” Calhoun said.

On YSU’s side, sharing the basketball inside-out will be the main key as it was in the first contest as YSU had 17 assists on 28 made shots. That kind of offense along with rapidly-improving defense will do wonders for the last nine games of the year.

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