Penguins take to the court tonight in CIT

YOUNGSTOWN – When Jerry Slocum took over the men’s basketball program at Youngstown State in 2005, he had a vision.

He made his way up through the coaching ranks, starting off at Nyack (N.Y.) College in the 1970s, heading to Geneva College in the 1980s and then going for a nine-year stint at Gannon University prior to YSU.

At all of those three stops he made a significant impact on the program.

Tonight, he’s beginning to see the fruits of that labor when the Penguins (17-15) host Oakland (16-16) in a first-round first-round game at Beeghly Center. Game time is at 7:05 p.m.

This is YSU’s first trip to the postseason as a Division I program and first for Slocum since he led Gannon to the Division II postseason in 2005.

“I’m excited and proud of where we’ve come from,” Slocum said. “It took us longer than I wanted it to, if I’m honest. I’m proud of our guys in terms of how hard we’ve worked and how hard we’ve persevered through this year with the injuries and challenges of so many road games to be able to host a game like this in the CIT.

“I want to make a comment clearly that this is not where our aspirations are to be. Our aspirations are to win the Horizon League and be in the NCAA Tournament. In the same breath, in the first time in Youngstown State’s history to be in postseason tournament like this, I’m happy for the university and proud of the program. It’s certainly going to help us in recruiting.”

He’s recruited players like Kendrick Perry, YSU’s leading scorer (16.7 points per game). Perry makes the Penguins one of the fastest teams in the Horizon League. YSU averages 70.2 points per outing, while Oakland puts in 73.7 per game.

Oakland is led by one of the best offensive players in the country in Travis Bader, who averages 21.9 points per game, connects on 88 percent from the line and shoots 38.4 percent from 3.

“They’re historically one of the best offensive teams in the country and they can really put numbers up,” Slocum said. “We’re going to have to have a good night guarding. We’re going to have to have a good night executing-wise. It’s a good basketball team.”

It will be a challenge for the YSU defense.

“We have to make everything as tough for them as possible when we’re on the defensive end and play the up-tempo style when we’re on offense,” YSU senior guard Blake Allen said.

Oakland gives up nearly 75 points per game, but Slocum said that’s a deceiving statistic.

“They’re a defensive team that takes a lot of chances, will get out and attempt a lot of steals. They’re a fairly good defensive team for the first 10 to 15 seconds of the shot clock,” he said.

“If you can make three to four to five passes against them and be patient, then I think you can get a lot of good shots against them. That’s a double-edged sword because we like to play fast and we want the tempo in this game to be really fast. It was enjoyable as a coach to see our speed back in practice. I think the one thing we had an advantage in the Horizon League is we were one of the fastest teams in the league. When KP went out (four games due to a knee injury), we lost that. There’s a fine line between playing fast and getting into the clock a little bit. That’s something we’ll have to do with some basketball IQ.”

It’s that basketball IQ that has got YSU to this point, after not reaching 10 wins in Allen’s first two seasons.

“It’s an accomplishment of where we came from,” Allen said. “It’s an accomplishment for the program. I’m honored to be part of the team that was able to make the postseason as a Division I here at YSU.

I definitely want to go out and give a supreme effort and hopefully move to the next round.”

NEXT ROUND?: After tonight’s and Wednesday’s first-round games are finished, the CIT second-round games, which are Saturday and Sunday, will be announced. Teams can bid on second-round home games, which cost $35,000 to host.

TONIGHT’S GAME: Tonight’s game will be broadcast on 570 WKBN-AM with Warren G. Harding graduate Robb Schmitt doing the play-by-play. Tickets are on sale for $10 for reserved and $7 for general admission. They can be purchased by calling 330-941-1978 or at the gate. The game will not be shown on MyYTV.

COMING TO THE HORIZON: There’s been some rumors that Oakland may apply to membership in the Horizon League. The school is located 30 miles north of Detroit. Oakland is in the Summit League, the former Mid-Continent Conference where YSU belonged until 2001.

“I’m sure in their minds, it’s an awesome fit,” Slocum said. “Who wouldn’t want to be in a total bus league for them, rather than going to North Dakota twice, South Dakota, UMKC?

“Is it a fit for our league? That’s for the powers that be (to decide).”

They are a basketball school that fits the Horizon League mold, Slocum said.

“They have a good basketball tradition,” he said. “They spend a lot of money in men’s basketball. They’re a good basketball team, there’s no doubt about that. They play a tough schedule every year to generate funding for them to charter and do some things that make them so successful. They’re a good basketball team that has had a tremendous amount of success in the postseason, whether it’s been in the NCAA or CIT.”