Hain’s defense powering Penguins

Bobby Hain’s sweat was dripping off his brow and on to Dom Rosselli Court inside the Beeghly Center. The intensity was plastered upon the face of the 6-foot-10 Youngstown State University sophomore forward.

But the fatigue never developed for Hain, who did yeoman’s work in virtually halting one of the better big men in the Horizon League – Cleveland State’s 6-8 sophomore Anton Grady. Hain held Grady to nine points and nine rebounds, but more importantly forced the CSU big man into seven turnovers in Monday’s 67-66 Horizon League victory.

“Coming into it I knew it was huge game,” Hain said. “It’s a kind of a rivalry thing. (YSU) Coach (Jerry Slocum) said play your hardest and give it all you got. I knew Anton Grady was a good player. I knew I’d have to have a good defensive game to do my job.”

The job doesn’t get easier Saturday as the Penguins (11-8, 2-2) host Detroit (8-11, 1-3) at 7:05 p.m. The Titans, which have a good defense, will test YSU.

“The last two games, against UIC and Cleveland State, we really guarded well,” said Slocum, who saw CSU commit 21 turnovers. “It certainly takes pressure off your offense to be able to guard like we did.”

Playing the Titans has been down right offensive for YSU, which has lost four straight to Detroit. The Penguins last win against the Titans was Dec. 1, 2011 at Calihan Hall, 64-61. YSU hasn’t beat Detroit at home since Feb. 7, 2008, a 55-48 victory. The Penguins are 8-26 all-time against the Titans.

“I really have a lot of respect for their defensive pressure,” Slocum said. “They’re really gotten up into us the last four or five times we’ve played them. We’ve had some success in their gym and very little in ours. We have to have some intensity. They’re very, very good defensively.”

Hain said controlling Detroit’s penetration to the lane is a must.

“Right now, our emphasis in practice is defense, getting in gaps,” he said. “I think if we do that, we’ll win the game. Defense wins games.”

Detroit has won its fair share of games with Juwan Howard Jr., son of former University of Michigan star Juwan Howard, and Evan Bruinsma. Howard Jr. (6-6) had 35 points in a 78-70 loss Wednesday against Valparaiso. Bruinsma (6-8) put in 10 in the loss. The pair are the only Titans averaging in double figures – 17.6 for Howard and 12 for Bruinsma.

“Howard is having a heckuva year. They’re really good with him and Bruinsma at the 4-3 position,” Slocum said.

Hain is having a good year as well. He averages 10.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

“Bobby is a young guy that’s going to get better” Slocum said. “He’s played really, really well in the most fierce competition games we’ve had. He’s played great in terms of having great intensity.

“The thing I’ve like about Bobby over the last two weeks is his consistency – consistency in practice every day. In games, his effort. He’s playing hard all the time. When you do that, you’re on your way to getting better.”

Hain showed that progress in a loss at Green Bay earlier this month. The 6-10 YSU sophomore went head-to-head with 7-1 Green Bay Center Alec Brown. Brown had 20 points and five rebounds, while Hain had 18 points and seven boards.

“He played really well against Brown at Green Bay,” Slocum said. “He’s a guy as we get going here down the league play that we need to get him more involved. He’s a guy that has to touch the ball more. He’s a guy that has the ability to play on the block and step out. He’s a guy that has to get 10 to 13 shots a night for us.”

If Hain’s not doing that, he’s happy to assist his team.

“Bobby just needs to stay consistent,” Slocum said. “He has to stay out of foul trouble. He’s such a good passer. One of the things that gets lost is his hands on the ball in situations because he’s always going to make the right pass.”

That consistency translated into one of the biggest highlights in his career – a 67-66 victory over CSU. The Penguins are a game-and-a-half back of first-place Green Bay (13-3, 3-0), and tied for third with Milwaukee (12-6, 2-2), CSU (10-8, 2-2), Valparaiso (10-9, 2-2) and Oakland (7-12, 2-2). Wright State (11-8, 3-1) is second. Detroit is eighth, while UIC (5-12, 0-3) is ninth after Wednesday’s games.

“It’s definitely a confidence boost,” Hain said. “That was probably the most exciting game I’ve ever played in my whole basketball career.”