Penguins open up against Flashes

YOUNGSTOWN — Do it again.

Jerrod Calhoun didn’t like what he saw during a recent practice.

Repetition. This Youngs-town State University men’s basketball team has been doing plenty of it throughout the spring, summer and fall.

It’s a matter of getting the muscles and brain to work in sync. It’s a long process, but one that isn’t a finished product as the team heads into the season opener tonight at the James A. Rhodes Arena in Akron. The Penguins take on Kent State in the nightcap of the Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer doubleheader, starting at 9 p.m.

Calhoun, who took Fairmont State from a sub-par team to the NCAA Division II title game, sees a sleeping giant in YSU — a program dormant for the better part of three decades.

Wake up, Penguins. This first-year coach is implementing a new up-tempo style on offense and pressing traps on defense.

Kent State, last year’s Mid-American Conference Tournament champions, are a rugged bunch coming from a conference where physical play, not run-and-gun styles, are preferred.

Calhoun said his team must match that type of intensity tonight or be left in the Golden Flashes’ wake. KSU is a new-look team itself with post and All-MAC player Jimmy Hall graduated.

Adonis De La Rosa, a 7-foot junior, takes up the middle with Jalen Avery and Jaylin Walker as the mainstays in the backcourt. Look for 6-7 Newark native B.J. Duling, who was offered by Xavier, as a key component on the KSU wing.

Keeping the Golden Flashes off the board is going to be an issue.

With KSU’s physical brand of basketball and YSU still trying to adjust to the pressing defense, it could be one of those early-season, foul-fests which makes one gag while trying to down a soft pretzel in the stands watching the carnage on the floor.

“We might not get out until 1 in the morning with the way both teams foul each other,” Calhoun said. “Hopefully those referees, it’s past their bedtime, because you know how it is as an opening game, there’s fouls.

“We’ve got to match that intensity and get butts on knees as I tell our guys. We’ve got to box them out.”

KSU holds a 31-17 lead in the all-time series dating back to 1929. The Golden Flashes won the last meeting in 2015, but YSU’s last victory over the Golden Flashes was in 2006.

Calhoun is 0-2 against Kent State. The first in a Golden Flashes’ win at West Virginia during ESPN’s 24 hours of college basketball when Calhoun was the Mountaineers Director of Basketball Operations. The other was KSU’s narrow victory against Fairmont State.

“Hopefully the third time is a charm for the Penguins,” Calhoun said.

There’s not hope, just hard work for YSU — working furiously on a system that is supposed to revolutionize the way the Penguins play.

It’s a style sophomore wing Braun Hartfield ran in high school. It’s just a matter of getting the schematics down and implementing it on the floor.

“If you can compete, work hard and go at it every single day, you should be successful at this style,” Hartfield said.