Penguins open Horizon League play

YOUNGSTOWN – Youngstown State’s Bobby Hain has heard the hype from his teammates.

“They said it’s way more physical,” he said. “You’re going to have to rebound every game, crash the boards hard and a lot of defense.”

From his coaches, the 6-foot-10 freshman forward, who has averaged less than 13 points in the last three games, has seen plenty of it in practice.

“We have this one competition where if you don’t rebound, you lose a point,” Hain said. “You do like a little fighting match down low. It’s all about rebounding right now.”

It’s Horizon League play.

YSU coach Jerry Slocum added Hain is right about playing against the likes of a Cleveland State, Wright State, Valparaiso and other teams in the conference.

“If you rebound the basketball, you’ll have a chance to win every night,” he said. “It’s so physical. There’s not over-the-back calls. There’s not pushing the back calls. It’s about maning up and getting rebounds. Those are two things in which we have to do a better job.”

Slocum said the Penguins (8-5), which begin league play tonight at UIC and will stay in the Chicago area through Saturday’s game at Loyola, need to improve their shooting percentage – especially the 32 percent from 3-point range.

“We’ve got to shoot the ball better, which is somewhat of a surprise for me,” Slocum said. “We might have some deficiencies in guarding. I thought we guarded tremendously defensively.”

The 9-4 Flames need to improve as well. They come into tonight’s game dropping their last three – at Western Illinois, Miami of Ohio and Toledo.

Tonight’s game begins at 8 p.m.

UIC is led by a pair of senior guards in 6-2 Daniel Barnes and 6-1 Gary Talton, who both average more than 12 points each outing.

Hayden Humes, a 6-8 junior forward that started his career at Toledo, leads the Flames with 46.3 percent from 3-point range and averages more than 11 points and almost six rebounds per game.

Finally, Josh Crittle, a 6-9, 260-pound senior center, that started out at Central Florida, averages less than 10 points and six rebounds per game.

As for Loyola (9-3), the Ramblers have won their last three – including their last outing at DePaul.

Saturday’s YSU game begins at 4 p.m.

Loyola is led by all-Horizon League player Ben Averkamp, a 6-8, 235-pound senior forward that has nearly 16 points and seven rebounds per game. He also shoots 83.1 percent from the free-throw line.

Iowa transfer Cully Payne (6-1 junior), who leads the team with 54 assists, averages 8.5 points per outing, and Devon Turk (6-4 freshman), who averages more than eight points each game, paces the Ramblers backcourt.

That said, both teams have notched some key victories over teams like Mississippi State, Northwestern, Colorado State and DePaul.

“There’s been teams that have had good record starting league play and come back to reality,” Slocum said. “I think these two teams are legit. I think Valpo is still at the top of the class. You get concerned that they run and hide from the rest of the league. Other than Valpo, I think it’s going to be a war every night.”

Win or lose, Slocum said YSU won’t be adept to letting his team’s emotions getting the best of them.

“In league play like this, you can’t get too high and you can’t get too low,” Slocum said. “The world is not coming to a stop on a loss. And, you can’t celebrate too much by getting a win on a road. We know historically, either the NCAAs or the NITs, happens out of playing out of league play.”

He thinks the Penguins are ready for the challenge of Horizon League play. The Penguins, after playing two in Chicago, head home for a Jan. 10 date with Detroit. Then, YSU is back on the road Dec. 17 at Green Bay and Dec. 19 in Milwaukee.

“I think our guys have learned their lessons well,” Slocum said. “Now it’s time for our guys to take the test. The test is obviously league play.

“Am I concerned we have four our of five on the road to start with to start league play? I am. I wish it was a little more balanced than that. Backside of it, if we get out and fight, scrap and steal a couple on the road, you’re going to get a good portion of January and February at home.”