Penguins men’s basketball to be more defensive

YOUNGSTOWN – Junior guard Cameron Morse and the rest of the returning Youngstown State team knew one thing – basketball games would be won or lost at the defensive end.

This offseason, the Penguins emphasized that point after giving up a Horizon League-worst 83.8 points per game and 87.3 in the league contests.

Morse was a Horizon League first-teamer last season, second in the league in scoring behind former Oakland and current Cleveland Cavalier guard Kay Felder with 20.3 points per game.

The offensively gifted Morse said defense was the focal point for the Penguins, who were 11-21 overall and 6-12 in the Horizon League last season. He added if the team continues to work on its defense, YSU’s offense can continue to thrive. The Penguins averaged 76.2 points per game last season, while posting 77.4 in league play.

The key is to see how well last year’s returns mesh with this year’s newcomers. For the first time in a while, the returners outnumber the new players on this season’s 15-player roster, which is mixed with scholarship and walk-on players.

Freshman guard Braun Hartfield from Garfield Heights, freshman guard Jeremiah Ferguson, freshman guard Noah Dean, along with junior forward Stefan Rosic and Rahim Williams are new to this year’s team.

“We try to keep it up tempo all the team, score as quickly as possible,” Morse said. “I feel bringing in more athletic players we get more stops on defense. Then, our defense can lead to our offense. That would increase our points and we’d be getting stops at the same time.”

YSU coach Jerry Slocum, who is 129-211 entering his 12th season with the Penguins, said the defense was the focus in the offseason.

“We haven’t done a whole lot of offense all summer,” he said. “We really spent a lot of time on the defensive end of the floor. Obviously it’s something we need to do better. It was all on me. I didn’t do a good job either philosophically or coaching it. We’re back to being more like us in the past where I thought we were more competitive defensively.”

The Penguins averaged 33.8 rebounds last year, but gave up 41.8 boards – something Slocum said his team concentrated on in tandem with improving the team’s defense.

“We obviously looked at ourselves, evaluated ourselves, found out and saw where out strengths and weaknesses are,” he said. “We have spent a ton of time on things that we need to do in order to be competitive.”

Returning senior forward Matt Donlan, who had a game-winning tip-in during last year’s double-overtime victory against UIC, said the defense and rebounding had to improve.

Donlan, who was second on the team in rebounds with 144, said this year’s team won’t emulate the one fans saw in the 2015-16 campaign.

“We weren’t as strong defensively and didn’t rebound the ball they way we needed to,” Donlan said. “Those are the things we jumped right into starting off the summer. We wanted to put an emphasis on rebounding the ball and sending guys to the glass, and also rotating and making sure we’re helping each other out.”