Streak may result in memorable season
Looking across the way at the Beeghly Center, I remember those red, plastic chairback seats where I was sitting, about four rows up.
Joining me was the late Dan Peters, as he normally did when I stopped by practice. I was in my mid-20s, my first year covering Youngstown State University basketball, the 1998-99 season.
Not much has changed in the Beeghly Center since then, aside from a few enhancements here and there.
I can’t believe it was that long ago that I sat there talking to Peters, who was one of the people I had the pleasure of covering.
He told me a couple of stories of his friend, Bob Huggins, of which he always had plenty. I interviewed Peters that day, asking him about an upcoming game and for a feature. His capable assistant coaches were running practice while I spoke with him.
Something caught Peters’ eye. He excused himself and walked to the floor and approached 6-foot-8 Steubenville native Dave Brown, who was at least a foot taller than the former YSU coach. Peters promptly grabbed the basketball from Brown’s large hands.
“Do you know what they call you? Bring it down Brown. Every time you’re near the basket, you bring the damn ball down,” Peters said emphatically.
Brown was one of a few memorable characters on that Penguins team that went 14-14 and 9-5 in the former Mid-Continent Conference (now Summit League).
Then there was that night on Jan. 27, facing an upstart NAIA team in Central State University. That team walked away with a 58-55 win, a devastating loss for YSU, a Division I team. There was Peters in a small, dark classroom near the current YSU locker room on the ground floor of the Beeghly Center. The surroundings, which could be confused for a boiler room, were fitting for the disappointment which purveyed that night.
From that point, YSU rolled off five straight wins. That feat had not been accomplished again until this season when the Penguins won their fifth in a row on Thursday, again in dramatic fashion, against IUPUI.
Tonight, the Penguins (11-16, 7-7 Horizon League) hosts UIC (14-12, 8-5) in a game which could clinch a Horizon League postseason appearance for the Penguins — something that could not be fathomable almost a month ago.
It was Jan. 26 when these Penguins had their Central State moment. It wasn’t like YSU lost to an NAIA school, but they bottomed out against Horizon League cellar dweller Cleveland State.
From there, the Penguins won games at Oakland and Detroit Mercy. I had the pleasure of making the road trip with the team, seeing firsthand how this team closed out games and showed resiliency in the final minutes of both wins. It’s something that has carried over in this five-game winning streak.
YSU is in a three-way tie for fifth place with Oakland and Detroit Mercy and a half-game out of fourth where Green Bay resides. UIC is a game and a half up on the fifth-place trio in third. The top four teams host first-round games.
Where will this five-game streak lead the Penguins?
Back in the 1998-99 season, I hopped a Sunday-morning flight out of Cleveland, connected in St. Louis and landed in Peoria, Illinois. I was the last one to get my luggage off the carousel and secured a rental car, knowing the 12:30 p.m. tipoff was upcoming. The hour-and-a-half drive was very mundane, sort of like traveling I-80 east to State College, Pa.
I arrived at halftime of the game in Moline, Illinois, right on the Iowa border. YSU beat Southern Utah in a quarterfinal game by 22 points before losing a semifinal matchup with Oral Roberts.
Peters made a beeline for me after the final horn sounded in the Southern Utah win.
“You should show up at halftime at more of our games,” he told me.
It was quite the memorable season, and the Penguins of 2018-19 are putting together another which could be just as memorable.