Final game affects YSU in tournament

YOUNGSTOWN — Jerrod Calhoun reflected after the Feb. 16 loss to Detroit.

The Youngstown State men’s basketball coach knows his team is still trying to build a culture, but he’s faced with the here and now.

On Saturday at 7 p.m., in the Horizon League regular-season finale, the Penguins face a Cleveland State team — one they’ve beaten already.

The league standings are so that YSU (8-22, 6-11) could finish anywhere from fifth to 10th place. The three through six seeds play in the league tournament at Detroit beginning March 4 and have to win three straight days to get an automatic NCAA berth.

Seeds seven through 10 start tournament play March 2, must play March 3 against one of the top two seeds, and then would have to win two more games to get that NCAA free pass.

Senior Cameron Morse, who has had a yeoman’s task thrown at him with fellow senior Francisco Santiago out for the season with ACL surgery, hasn’t been the same prolific scorer that most Horizon League teams have feared. He’s gotten that back somewhat the last couple of games, but he’s had to take on point guard duties as well — not solely coming off screens as a shooting guard. It’s something Calhoun said will help Morse down the road if he chooses to play professionally.

Senior Jaylen Benton, a walk-on, is at his third college in four years. The Columbus native is finding some solace coming off the bench and even in the starting lineup in the point guard role.

Then there’s another walk-on in Ryan Strollo, a former Ursuline High School standout. Strollo, the son on YSU Director of Athletics Ron Strollo, spent the first year at good Walsh University program before heading home to the Penguins.

“It’s going to be an exciting night, but it’s still going to be nerve-wracking,” Calhoun said. “We’re still playing for a lot.”

Last Saturday, Calhoun took some time to see one of his three recruits — Columbus Beechcroft senior Jelani Simmons. The 6-foot-5 guard helped his team win the Columbus City Championship — something his Division II school hasn’t done in decades.

Huber Heights Wayne’s Darius Quisenberry, a 6-0 guard and another YSU recruit, has helped his team be one of the best Division I teams in the state.

Both are in the running for Ohio’s Mr. Basketball as both teams are two of the best in the state. Each player averages more than 20 points per game and has plenty of intangibles.

The other Penguin recruit for next season is a three-star recruit in Hackensack, N.J., Atiba Taylor, a 6-3 guard. He’s been sought after by Kansas State and some other high-level programs, but saw an opportunity with YSU.

“We’re very fortunate to have the recruiting class we have coming,” Calhoun said. “I think he’s (Simmons) a kid that’s going to be multi-dimensional. It’s really neat to see him and his teammates to celebrate that moment for the entire city of Columbus.

“I thought it was a really great accomplishment for his team.”

YSU has to establish a culture of hard work, which should become more evident in the offseason. It’ll take getting better every day, building a team chemistry.

Then, there’s a matter of adding depth for your team. Calhoun wants his team to be like Northern Kentucky and UIC, which has a bench that goes anywhere from eight to 10 players deep.

“You want depth,” Calhoun said. “That’s how you build this thing, and you do it through recruiting.”

YSU has to finish this season showing the grit is has displayed in spurts. That is part of changing a program’s culture.