Penguins start four-game homestand with rival CSU

YOUNGSTOWN – Cleveland State has been known as one of the most physical and defensive-minded teams in the Horizon League.

Coming out of a matchup battered and bruised is usually the norm.

Unfortunately, for the rest of the league, the Vikings have added another dimension – high-powered offense.

CSU (10-7, 2-1 Horizon League) averages around 75 points heading into tonight’s matchup at the Beeghly Center with Youngstown State (10-8, 1-2). Tipoff is at 7:05 p.m.

The Vikings are a couple years removed from Miami Heat’s Norris Cole leading CSU to the 2009 NCAA Tournament, where the team advanced to the second round.

This year’s team gives YSU coach Jerry Slocum a flashback to Vikings days gone by.

“I think this is one of the best offensive teams since Cole’s left. They have numerous guys that can score the ball,” Slocum said.

The Vikings offense starts with 6-foot-8 forward Anton Grady. He’s been a heavy hand during the past three conference games with a team-leading 15 points and 10 rebounds.

“Obviously Grady is the key to the game. He has a good feel as in terms of playing the interior,” Slocum said.

Then Trey Lewis, a 6-2 transfer from Penn State, who has put in 11 points on average in the past three games.

Guards Charlie Lee (5-8) and Bryn Forbes (6-3) haven’t had the same amount of success in league play. Forbes leads the team with 16 points per game, while Lee puts in 9.5 per outing. The pair have only put a little less than eight in each of the last three games. However, the pair are two of the best free-throw shooters in the league.

“You have to keep them off the foul line and take care of the ball,” Slocum said.

Taking care of the ball is important, but the value of Miami of Ohio transfer Jon Harris in invaluable to CSU. Harris has averaged 13 points and 7.5 boards during the last three games and was instrumental in the Dec. 28 victory at Kent State.

“He gives them a dimension they have not had in the past couple of years, with a lengthy, long athletic four that can shoot and put in on the deck a little bit,” Slocum said.

The Penguins have their hands full tonight.

“They can put five guys on the floor that can score the basketball,” Slocum said.

YSU senior point guard Kendrick Perry, the Horizon League’s leading scorer with 21 points per game, knows that all too well.

“Our defense, especially from the standpoint of D.J. (Cole) and myself, have to be crucial to set the tone early,” Perry said. “We make every position tough for them early then we can make that our standpoint throughout the game.”

In addition, the Penguins can’t keep up their recent pattern of miscues. They’ve averaged about 13 turnovers in the last three games, not something that pleases Slocum.

“That’s not like one of our teams,” he said. “When we’re good, we’re at the 7-8 line. You’re not going to give Cleveland State 14 turnovers and beat them.”

Getting out to a good start, especially in the second half, is important for YSU tonight.

“You have to,” Perry said. “In a tough league like the Horizon League, you’re going to get everyone’s best shot night in and night out. At the end of the year, I’d like to see how many games we’ve won by double digits. That’s how gritty the teams are. That’s how tough the teams are.

“Getting out to good starts is crucial.”

After all, YSU is playing one of, if not, the best team in the Horizon League.

“I think they’re really good defensively,” Slocum said. “I’m not sure they’re great as they have been may be in the past on the defensive end, but they are very, very dangerous at the offensive end.

“I think they’re a top-tier team in the league.”