Yes, YSU is off to 2-0 start in Horizon

It was as if Milwaukee was in a trance, wondering what just befell them in the first couple of minutes as its opponent surged way ahead. This sight was different, this team facing them, but not like before.

Frankly, no one gave this team much credit, even after Monday’s win at Cleveland State. Most around the Horizon League still think of the Youngstown State men’s basketball team as a punchline, a constant cellar dweller.

Why should their home opener be different?

It was against one of the league’s bluebloods, a team which reached a Sweet 16 under current Auburn coach Bruce Pearl about a decade ago. Somehow, this Panthers team reached the Horizon League title game last season.

Well, YSU made the semifinals and lost to Horizon League champion Northern Kentucky. Those two wins were some of the best coaching retired mentor Jerry Slocum did in his tenure in Youngstown.

So what, those around the league say. You were once again picked at the bottom of the league. It’s where you belong.

This Penguins team thinks differently. It has been infused with pure, unbridled enthusiasm. Heck, YSU first-year coach Jerrod Calhoun even was warned about his bench by an official in the second half of Thursday’s game. Calhoun takes pride in that and wants one a game. Bring it on he says.

YSU went out to a 15-4 lead on Milwaukee, but as most things go during college basketball, the other team made a stand. The Panthers made their run.

Freshmen standout Garrett Covington made his presence known, holding Milwaukee’s Brock Stull, a 15-point scorer, to seven and 1 of 14 from the floor.

That, combined with the Penguins going 5 of 6 from foul line late in the game, was a big difference. For a team struggling to shoot 60 percent from the line, it wasn’t amazement. It was muscle memory and game experience, which YSU got a healthy dose of in December facing some teams quite familiar with March Madness like Butler, Indiana and Utah State.

So why does this matter? YSU is 4-11. The Penguins must have gotten lucky. That’s what it is, it’s a fluke they got to 2-0 in the Horizon League, first time in YSU history.

No, it’s practice. It’s game experience. It’s muscle memory. It’s pure enthusiasm from a first-year coach who doesn’t want to hear the word no. Frankly, why should he? Why should this team? It’s a word said too much around this area.

Senior Cameron Morse is why. This team has asked a lot of a first-team, all-Horizon League player, who averaged around 23 points a game.

Now he isn’t going to go off for 44 points tonight like he did against Green Bay a year ago. Tonight’s game starts at 7:05. He doesn’t need to, and Morse is happy to make the sacrifice as the team’s point guard.

He’s happy to have five to eight assists a game, along with 20 points. As long as a win is attached, the senior from Flint, Mich., is all smiles.

It’s a happy-go-lucky group of YSU players, young with freshmen and junior college transfers. A handful of veterans are finding their way as well.

There’s been plenty of doubters this season, wondering if the Penguins could beat more than an NCAA Division III team. They’ve proved it twice this league season and hope to do it once again tonight.

It’s called momentum, and this YSU team would like to show you it is constantly improving.