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Can YSU remain among the best?

Is Youngstown State one of better teams in the Horizon League?

My friend Mike laughs at the thought. ‘Who have they beaten?’ he asks. He starts rattling off Thiel, Westminster, USC-Upstate, North Carolina Central, SEMO (Southeast Missouri State), Robert Morris, Binghamton, along with wins against IUPUI, UIC, Oakland and Detroit in the Horizon League.

Eleven wins, seven losses; that’s the Youngstown State University men’s basketball record. They are 8-0 at the Beeghly Center for the first time in decades.

Mike wonders what is the overall record of the teams they played. Here are their records prior to Tuesday night: Robert Morris 8-9, Westminster 9-6, Thiel 4-8, North Carolina Central 6-11, USC-Upstate 7-9, Binghamton 7-9, SEMO 4-13, Oakland 7-11, UIC 7-12, Detroit 3-15 and IUPUI 5-14.

YSU led nationally-ranked West Virginia at halftime on Dec. 21 at the Covelli Centre. He’s slightly impressed.

YSU (11-7, 4-1 Horizon League) is a half-game back of league leader Wright State (15-4, 5-1) and a half-game up on Northern Kentucky (12-6, 4-2), last year’s Horizon tournament champion. The Norse soundly beat UIC and IUPUI on the road this past weekend, a feat YSU did to start league play. The Penguins were the only Horizon team to win two on the road that first weekend of league play.

The Penguins have quite a task in from of them the next two games as they play Thursday at the BB&T Arena in Highland Heights, Kentucky, about 20 minutes southeast of Cincinnati. YSU is 10-9 all time against Northern Kentucky, but has never won on the Norse’s home court.

On Saturday evening, the Penguins are at Wright State. The Raiders are 47-12 against YSU all time and last lost to the Penguins Jan. 7, 2017, when YSU won at the Nutter Center, 80-75. It was the first year for WSU coach Scott Nagy at Wright State and the last for Penguins coach Jerry Slocum in Youngstown. YSU is 3-22 at the Nutter Center, 3-26 overall at Wright State.

Maybe this weekend can change Mike’s mind about the Penguins?

“It’s a good opportunity,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “There’s a lot of games to be played. We’re playing two programs that have had a lot of success in the Horizon. Not only great coaches, but fans and players.

“We’ve got to understand the opportunity that awaits us.”

Wright State’s campus is about 30 minutes away from Darius Quisenberry’s home in Springfield. You can bet YSU’s prolific sophomore guard will have his cheering section at the Nutter Center on Saturday. He played his senior year at nearby Huber Heights Wayne High School.

He’s been a catalyst for YSU since the West Virginia game. Quisenberry (6-foot-1) has scored at least 15 points in the Penguins’ four Horizon wins.

Penguins forward Naz Bohannon is a double-double presence each time the 6-6 Lorain native takes the floor. His presence near the basket has been substantial, spearheading the team’s 708 rebounds. The team’s 13.28 offensive rebounds per game average puts them 19th nationally. Bohannon is fifth in the nation with 4.12 offensive boards per game.

YSU junior forward Michael Akuchie (6-8) has been a self-made man with his tenacious hard work during the team’s down time, honing his skills. The Florida native has had a breakout season with averages of 9.4 points and almost six rebounds a game. His presence has been increased in Horizon games, being an integral part of the team’s four league wins. He had 20 points and 10 rebounds in a 61-60 win over Oakland, helping Bohannon control the boards.

Garrett Covington (6-5), the team’s defensive stopper, put the clamps on the Horizon’s best scorer — Detroit Mercy sophomore guard Antoine Davis, who averages around 25 points a game. Covington, who was the main one guarding Davis, held him to a 5-of-20 performance and 14 points — including 2-of-9 from 3-point range — in Saturday’s 69-67 Penguins win.

Defensively, YSU is one of the best in the Horizon, holding teams to 68 points per game.

Those are some reasons why the Penguins are one of the better teams in the league. They’re vastly improved from November and early December, being a stingy club to face.

That, Mike, despite the teams YSU has beaten, makes the Penguins one of the better teams in this league.

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