Penguins need balance to beat Cleveland State

Coach Jerry Slocum couldn’t be more pleased about his team’s offensive performance.

In two games, the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team has shot more than 45 percent from floor.

The Penguins averaged 78.5 points in their last two games. You couldn’t ask for more from a program.

YSU outrebounded its opponents in both games, which Slocum would concur is vital in league play.

So is possession.

Tonight’s game at the Wolstein Center on the Cleveland State University campus is the fight of a high-powered offense against a tenacious, full-court defense. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

YSU has proved its worth by running an up-and-down style Slocum has wanted to implement since he first arrived from Gannon University in 2005.

One problem for the Penguins is they’re facing a defensive-minded team in CSU. Don’t let the 11-12 overall, 3-6 Horizon League mark fool you. Nor should the youthful nature of the Vikings be a misnomer.

Cleveland State snapped a four-game losing streak with Saturday’s home win against UIC (14-9, 5-5). This is the same Vikings team that upset Detroit on its home floor earlier this year.

CSU still implements a pressure-style defense that coach Gary Waters likes to run and was successful with it in his stint at Kent State. He derives his team’s trapping defense from former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, who used the “40 minutes of hell” to eventually lead the Razorbacks to the NCAA Championship in 1994.

YSU (13-9, 5-4) committed 20 turnovers in the 88-77 loss Friday at Detroit (15-8, 7-3). The Penguins can’t have a repeat of that performance it they want to come away with a victory – their fifth in six games.

“We’ve got to be able to guard and we’ve got to be able to handle their defensive pressure they’re so good at,” Slocum said. “Year in and year out, they’re one of the best defensive teams in the league. You have to make sure they don’t come up and get you and turn the ball over.

“Coming off the Detroit game, that’s a concern for me.”

YSU has to keep an eye on forward Tim Kamczyc and guards Bryn Forbes and Charlie Lee – CSU’s big three – defensively, but the Penguins also have to keep their offensive prowess up as well.

Despite shooting 48.3 percent in the first half of a Jan. 26 home win against the Vikings, the Penguins faltered and shot 27.6 percent after intermission.

YSU can’t have that kind of performance against a CSU team that is 7-2 at home.

“We know a 60-70 percent game is not going to do it,” Slocum said. “You better be playing on all cylinders for 40 minutes.”

Then, on Thursday, YSU is the back end of a Penguins doubleheader against Loyola. The Penguin women (15-5, 5-2), coming off Sunday’s win at Wright State, hosts Detroit (12-7, 5-2), starting at 5:15 p.m. The men play at approximately 7:45 p.m.

“You play one of the most physical teams in Loyola,” Slocum said. “They just bump you, knock you and hold you.”

The Penguins hope they get out of this two-game stretch unscathed.

ANOTHER STINT: YSU junior forward Kamren Belin was named Horizon League Newcomer of the Week for the second straight week.

Last week, Belin averaged 17.5 points and eight rebounds per game and shot 52.1 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3-point range as the Penguins went 1-1. For the week, Belin was 9 for 15 from 3-point range.

He canned six 3-pointers against Detroit.

It’s no coincidence Belin’s play has meant good things for YSU. The Penguins are 8-3 when Belin scores in double figures.

LAST TIME AROUND: This is the last year for BracketBusters, an event designed to give high-level, mid-major teams around the country better consideration in the NCAA Tournament.

BracketBusters, which has become a two-day event in recent years, kicks off Feb. 22 as Akron, which received votes in the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN polls for the first time in school history, hosts North Dakota State (18-5, 9-2 Summit League), starting at 7 p.m. (ESPN2).

Other games involving Horizon League and Mid-American Conference teams are: Feb. 23 as Eastern Kentucky, a surprise team in the Ohio Valley Conference with a 17-6, 7-3 record, travels to Valparaiso for a 1 p.m. game (ESPNU). Pacific is at Western Michigan for a 2 p.m. game ( Detroit travels to Wichita State (19-4, 8-3), one of the best mid-majors in the country. The game, on ESPN or ESPN2, tips off at 4 p.m.

The final TV game is Ohio (15-6, 6-1 MAC) at Belmont (19-4, 10-0 OVC), a 10 p.m. game on ESPN2. The Bobcats reached the Sweet 16 last year.

The other Horizon League games played on Feb. 23 are Cleveland State at Western Illinois, Milwaukee at IUPUI, Green Bay at Drake, Bradley at UIC, Kent State (12-10, 3-5) at Loyola, Evansville at Wright State and Central Michigan (9-12) at Youngstown State. Tipoff of the YSU game is at 7:05 p.m.

Besides, Akron, Ohio, Kent State and Central Michigan, other MAC schools playing on Feb. 23 in the BracketBusters are: McNeese State at Toledo, Missouri State at Eastern Michigan, Miami at Southern Illinois, Manhattan at Buffalo, Ball State at Southeast Missouri State, Eastern Illinois at Northern Illinois and Bowling Green at IPFW.