YSU men changing focus to defense

YOUNGSTOWN – Chucking 3-pointers, fast-break points, tempo that wasn’t for the easily nauseous.

Welcome to Youngstown State men’s basketball.

YSU’s offense prowess is well known with Kendrick Perry and D.J. Cole returning in the front court, but with the graduation of Warren G. Harding graduate Damian Eargle, last year’s Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year, it leaves a question mark about the Penguins defense.

“I think it’s going to be tougher team than my past years here,” Perry said. “With started this year with a motto, ‘No toughness. No championship.’ I think with myself, along with the 13 guys over there, we’re going to have a very tough attitude and a more team defense focused team. We know that we can score. We’re very confident in our offensive abilities. At the end of the day, we’re going to need to lock people down in order to win games.”

Last year’s Penguins team, that was 18-16 last season, had their fair share of close games.

“I gave our guys a stat the other day,” YSU coach Jerry Slocum said. “Out of the games we played, 24 or 25 games were determined in the last media timeout, which is the last 4 minutes and under. We know we’re going to be in a lot of tough games. I like our depth. I like our skill level. I think we have questions though, too. Obviously, we lost two very good players. Damian was the defensive player of the year. Blake (Allen) was the all-time 3-point scorer in school history. Do I think we have questions? I think we do. That’s only going to be proven when we get into actual play, but I like our answers now.”

With Eargle, the school’s all-time leading shot blocker, gone, YSU has to rely on Kamren Belin (6-foot-7, 235 pounds), Josh Chojnacki (6-9, 240), Bobby Hain (6-10, 235) and Fletcher Larson (6-8, 215) to pick up the slack.

“I think our depth in our big position has been as good as it’s ever been since I’ve been here with Bobby, Fletch and Josh,” Slocum said. “I’m excited where we are. I think our balance is better. I think our depth is clearly better than what it has been over the last three to four years. With the new officiating emphasis, I think that’s going to be a must for us, especially in the beginning of the season.”

The new officiating with eliminate any kind of hand checking, along with a couple other revisions. That said, Hain thinks the team’s post players are more physical than in years past.

“I think we got a lot tougher over the offseason,” Hain said. “We got more physical, quicker and more athletic. Me, Kam, Fletch and Josh can step up and do that role better.

“I’ve got a lot quicker with my feet. I think I’ve got a lot tougher because in the weight room my lifting has increased. I think I’ve got a lot tougher for the season.”

Belin said the YSU interior won’t be a pushover.

“We’re trying to be more assertive, bang, be tougher down there,” he said. “We have a good, stretch outside game. We just want to get tougher in the paint, especially with missing Dam (Eargle). We want to get down there and battle. We have a lot help, schemes and stuff like that. We should be straight.”

Hain said his team doesn’t want to be an easy win for anybody in the Horizon League.

“We don’t want to take nothing from anybody,” he said. “We want to go out there and show that we’re tough. We can play like the rest of them, just show them we’re ready to compete this year.”