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Intensity key part of push by YSU

YOUNGSTOWN — Intensity, it’s easy to say, hard to display when exhaustion runs through your being.

School and other factors can affect the all-out intensity in preparation. It’s about being ready for 40 minutes of dribbling, shooting, rebounding and boxing out on a hardwood surface with a Penguin embossed on the floor.

On Wednesday, the Youngstown State men’s team was preparing for tonight’s game against Illinois-Chicago starting at 7.

Defense is YSU’s calling card, with a focus on rebounding, making those box outs, keeping the opposition out of the paint. Offensively, it’s getting offensive rebounds — multiple scoring opportunities on those possessions.

Naz Bohannon is a 6-foot-6 junior forward from Lorain who plays much bigger than his stature. It’s what he does, it’s about the heart. A larger-than-life figure, he willed himself through Lorain as a true scholar-athlete. He takes that passion and tries to enhance his team each and every game, striving for double figures in points and rebounds.

There’s John F. Kennedy graduate Justin Bofenkamp. You don’t hear his name all that much as far as the box score goes. He does so much on the court during practices. He is one of a handful of practice players the Penguins use to help scout their opponent.

On Wednesday, he made a handful of 3-pointers from about 25 feet away. Diving on the floor, setting a pick, it’s what he does. He finds that drive — the same he’s had since he pushed the Eagles to the 2017 Division IV Canton Regional title game. Raw, unbridled intensity is what he offers for the Penguins.

Donel Cathcart III, nicknamed Zoomi because of his active nature as a child, was the sparkplug the Penguins had seen on the court two of the last three games — scoring a combined 40 points.

You could see plenty of smiles at practice from the Buffalo, N.Y., native, as well he should. It’s indicative of the team’s surging offense — up to around 73 points per game through nine Horizon League games.

Defense has been lacking the last couple of games. That mental and physical exhaustion, especially the two games in which YSU played five extra minutes — going to overtime against Milwaukee and Green Bay — needs to be overcome. There have been a lot of close games for the Penguins. The last four in Youngstown have been decided by four or fewer points, including a couple of buzzer-beaters.

Senior Devin Morgan, who had a season-high 26 points in the win on Saturday over Green Bay, knows giving up almost 76 points during league play is unacceptable.

YSU (12-10) is tied with Milwaukee and Green Bay for third in the league at 5-4. Northern Kentucky is in second at 6-3, trailing Wright State (8-1). The top two teams at the end of the regular season advance Horizon League tournament semifinals at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis. Teams that finish three through six host those finishing seven through 10 in the first round. Those winners move on to the quarterfinals, also at campus sites.

That’s why the next two games at the Beeghly Center are so big to YSU, pieces to the puzzle of putting together a drive toward the postseason. The winner of the Horizon tournament gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Defense wins championships. If YSU wants to win a title, the Penguins must show they are doing more than turning the corner.

Morgan was on the floor in Wednesday’s practice, encouraging his teammates — including diving on the floor for possessions.

It’s about taking ownership, something YSU plans to do the next nine games of the Horizon League season — showing that intensity from when the Penguins were one of the best defensive teams in the league.

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