YSU barely hanging on to its edge

YSU is taking on water but is trying to bail itself out before sinking into no man’s land.

The Penguins men’s basketball team has lost two of its last three games – shooting between 50 to 60 percent from the foul line.

Last week’s game at Cleveland State was decided by six points when YSU shot 11 of 22 from the stripe.

Sunday’s triple-overtime loss to UIC saw the Penguins shoot 20 of 33 from the line.

“Missing free throws is like the plague. It’s disappointing,” YSU coach Jerry Slocum said.

It’s changed YSU’s outlook heading into its final three home games of the season. Friday and Sunday YSU hosts Milwaukee (5-20, 1-10) and Green Bay (13-12, 7-5). Feb. 23, the home finale, is an ESPN BracketBusters game against Central Michigan.

Then, YSU finishes the season with a two-game road trip at Valparaiso (19-6, 9-2) and Wright State (17-8, 8-4) – the league’s two best teams.

The top two teams get byes to the semifinals of the league tournament, hosted by the top-seeded team during the quarterfinals and semifinals. The highest remaining seed hosts the finals.

In the first round, seeds four through six host seeds seven through nine. That’s where YSU now falls as the six seed.

“A week ago, we were in the position to be fighting for a first-round bye,” Slocum said. “Now, we’re fighting for a first-round home game.

“I thought we played with some heart and character this past week but did not shoot the ball from the foul line well, and it cost us both games.”

But, Slocum said it was more than free throws that cost YSU against UIC, which has swept the season series.

With 5 seconds left, UIC set up a play and Gary Talton’s jumper with 2 seconds remaining tied the game at 57 – sending it to overtime. YSU had a foul to give prior to Talton’s shot.

“We did not respond well. I take credit for that,” Slocum said. “To me, the game was lost then. There were some breakdowns in our execution that cost us a great game.”

Now, it’s cost YSU a chance at a first-round bye. The third seed gets a bye to the quarterfinals. Getting close to the third seed is near impossible at this point. The Flames (15-10, 6-6) are fifth. Green Bay is fourth and Detroit (16-9, 8-4), which swept YSU, is third.

Even though YSU has beat Wright State and Valpo at home, it’s another thing playing these two on the road. The Penguins have yet to beat either team on the road in quite a while. The last time YSU beat Valpo on the road was Jan. 24, 1998, when the Penguins won, 69-66. The Penguins won at Wright State on Dec. 17, 1994, 62-56.

YSU needs to recapture that magic it had against Valpo and Wright State this season in key home victories. At the time, the Penguins were 5-3 in the league and knocking on the doorstep of first place.

Dropping two of the last three, sandwiched in between a 60-59 victory against Loyola, has put the Penguins in a precarious position.

YSU has four league games left. Winning at home against Milwaukee and Green Bay seems feasible, but wins at Wright State and Valparaiso are highly unlikely.

“There’s been a handful of games where we’ve put together a complete game where our offense played with our defense,” Slocum said. “When we do that, we’re capable of beating the Wright States and the Valpos. When we don’t, we’re capable of losing to anybody in our league.”

Question is which YSU team shows up the rest of the way?