YSU becomes road warriors

There are two choices for this year’s Youngstown State men’s basketball team – wonder what might have been or do something to change its fortune.

The Penguins are 6-7 in games decided by five or fewer points – including 2-4 dating back to a Jan. 31 game at Oakland.

YSU coach Jerry Slocum readily points to the final media timeout where there is less than 4 minutes remaining. It’s a place where games are usually decided, especially for this year’s Penguins (15-16, 6-10 Horizon League).

The seventh-seeded Penguins open this year’s Horizon League Tournament on Tuesday at sixth-seeded Oakland at 7 p.m. It’s a rematch of Saturday’s 87-81 home loss to Oakland.

The Horizon League’s best 3-point shooter – Oakland’s Travis Bader – wreaked havoc from the perimeter with 33 points, including 6 of 13 beyond the arc. Corey Petros had 23 points and 13 rebounds, and Kahlil Felder had 10 points and 12 assists.

The Golden Grizzlies (12-19, 7-9) and YSU have a tendency to put up some high-scoring affairs. Tuesday should be no different. First one to 90 points should win this one.

However, this is a YSU team that definitely underachieved, record-wise.

It’s a shame because the Penguins have the best player in the Horizon League in 6-foot senior guard Kendrick Perry, who could be playing in the NBA and will be playing professional basketball somewhere.

This was a YSU team with such high expectations. This was supposed to be a Penguins team competing for a regular-season title or at least one of the top three seeds.

In the middle of January, they were. Now, after losing their last three games, YSU finds itself on the road.

Can the Penguins win at Oakland? They almost did at the Golden Grizzlies’ place, dropping an 86-85 decision in late January. Can it happen Tuesday? Don’t let Bader go off from 3, and we’ll see.

Two of the last three losses were at Valparaiso (68-66) and at Cleveland State in overtime (70-69).

Whoever wins Tuesday’s YSU-Oakland game takes on third-seeded Wright State (18-13, 10-6) on Friday in Green Bay, which is the top seed in the tournament.

YSU edged Wright State 68-67 on Jan. 25 in Youngstown, but lost by 10 in Dayton on Feb. 5. A neutral site could favor YSU if it beats Oakland.

Then, if and only if, YSU beats Wright State, they would face second-seeded Cleveland State in Saturday’s semifinals at Green Bay. This is a team YSU beat 67-66 on Jan. 13 in Youngstown. Both games were decided by one point.

If the Penguins were to get past the Vikings, they’d better hope fourth-seeded Valparaiso knocks off top-seeded Green Bay in the other semifinal and hosts the March 11 championship game. If that happens, YSU could get its revenge on the Crusaders from the Feb. 22 contest.

Don’t think about facing Green Bay. Valpo, because of its size, has the only shot of knocking off the top-seeded Phoenix.

It’s wishful thinking, but stranger things have happened during March. And, if it does, it will erase the 6-7 record and an underachieving regular season.