Perfect Penguins: YSU 3-0 in league

Grit vaults resurgent Youngstown State to top of HL

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo YSU's Cameron Morse shoots a short jumper as Green Bay's PJ Pipes looks on Saturday in Youngstown.

YOUNGSTOWN — Tyree Robinson admits he’s an emotional player, and fans can see the joy and disappointment on his face pending on the situation.

Robinson missed two free throws in the second half and came down the court. No sulking. He hustled down and elevated for one of his four blocked shots off the bench.

“I had to make it up some way, some how,” said Robinson after YSU’s 85-74 win over Green Bay. “I can’t make it on offense, I’m going to do it on defense. It feels like a must-need sense of urgency I have. My drive just kicked in and said go get the ball. So I did it.”

It was one of several big moments for the suddenly resurgent Penguins.

Cameron Morse, who had 19 points, stood near the paint and took the full brunt of the momentum of a Green Bay player for a charging foul with four-and-a-half minutes remaining.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo YSU's Garrett Covington guards Green Bay's Khalil Small during Saturday's game in Youngstown.

Jeremiah Ferguson made a steal with the best defensive pressure this Youngstown State men’s basketball team has exuded this season (YSU had 11 steals).

“He got in the passing lanes, stole one, he put pressure on the D,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said of Ferguson. “We need that bench to keep getting better.

“I thought he was a difference tonight.”

Then it was Robinson again and a host of other elevating Penguins players dominating the rebounding advantage.

It was more than Braun Hartfield’s team-high 21 points, leading a team that shot 16 of 35 in the second half.

It was what Calhoun calls grit, resembling the hard-working people of Youngstown.

It was what those more than 4,000 inside the Beeghly Center saw when the Penguins defeated Green Bay on Saturday for YSU’s third straight victory.

“It made us understand we have to work hard, can’t take no plays off,” said Robinson, who had 11 points and nine rebounds. “If we mess up, we have to make it back on defense and work hard on that.”

YSU hasn’t started 3-0 in league play since the 1997-98 season when the Penguins were in the Mid-Continent Conference and advanced to the conference title game before losing to Valparaiso, a Crusaders team who made the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

YSU (5-11, 3-0 Horizon League) is tied for first place in the league with Wright State (11-5) and Northern Kentucky (10-5).

Garrett Covington, who had four steals, said his team has to be gritty on defense.

Green Bay (7-11, 2-3) had 18 turnovers, while YSU had 13 turnovers and 14 assists.

“Defense is everything,” said Covington, who had 17 points and eight rebounds. “We emphasize that to the highest degree. Defense is first, play with a gritty attitude. We’re going to do what we’re supposed to do.”

There wasn’t much done with the fouls in the first 20 minutes.

In the first half, Green Bay’s Sandy Cohen III had the game’s only free throw attempts to that point — making 1 of 2 from the line with 2.7 seconds left. Cohen had a game-high 27 points, while Khalil Small added 21. Manny Patterson had 12 off the bench for the Phoenix.

The Penguins, who struggled to break 60 percent from the foul line last month, shot 13 of 16 from the charity stripe Saturday.

YSU not only rebounded from a six-point halftime deficit but had 21 offensive rebounds and 22 defensive boards — leading to plenty of second-chance opportunities for the Penguins.

“Rebounding is wanting to get the ball,” Calhoun said. “We just wanted it a little bit more tonight.”

YSU displayed the grit that this team has learned to attain through the season, through the long summer sessions, pre-season practices and during the doldrums of a non-league schedule.

“When you’re not shooting the ball and playing your best basketball or you’re not playing your best football, you survive with toughness,” said Calhoun, whose team plays Wednesday at Oakland. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. “I learn from the master. Bob Huggins is the master. His teams always play tough.”

Saturday, that’s exactly what YSU did against Green Bay.