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Penguins must embrace journey

Matt Manley and his crew of student assistants had cases of water, Gatorade and other snacks stacked and ready to go into the storage compartments of the tour bus parked behind the Beeghly Center.

Some were heading for overhead compartments in the middle part of the bus that was being prepared to carry the 30-or-so people traveling with the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team.

The trip is one of the shorter ones of the year, heading to southeastern Michigan, about four to five hours away.

Most on the bus are concentrating on a variety of things — game film, studies, music or conversation. Some are also looking out the windows high above the interstate.

The trip goes through the flat lands of western Ohio. There, ahead on I-280 near Toledo, was a gigantic stone pillar with cable tension wires protruding from both sides to hold up a bridge spanning the Maumee River. Terrifying to those afraid of heights, but an exhilarating view nonetheless.

Destination ahead, Calihan Hall in downtown Detroit. It’s an iconic building full of the history of former Detroit Mercy greats who fans watched from their wooden, chairback seats with red and blue paint — Titan colors — spanning throughout the upper level of the near 8,000-seat multi-purpose arena.

It opened in 1952 as the University’s Memorial Building — about 20 years older than the Beeghly Center. Calihan Hall was renamed in 1977 after the Titans’ first All-American, Bob Calihan.

Former coach and ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale, plus former Titan greats like Ray McCallum Jr., Rashad Phillips and Hall of Famer Dave DeBusschere have their collective footprints at this historic venue.

Oakland’s home, the O’rena in affluent Rochester, Michigan, more than a half-hour north of Detroit, houses 4,000 in a space much different that includes the best student section in the Horizon League.

Kay Felder and Kendrick Nunn, former Horizon League Players of the Year, have made their way to the NBA, with Nunn being one of the league’s rising stars.

The O’rena tiers down from the top and there isn’t a bad seat in the place. It’ll be a great place to watch YSU and Oakland play Saturday afternoon as the two teams have had their games decided by four or fewer points — including Darius Quisenberry’s last-second lay-up against the Golden Grizzlies about a month ago in Youngstown for a one-point victory.

The Penguins seek three straight wins over Detroit Mercy on Thursday as YSU snapped a 12-game skid against the Titans last year in Detroit.

Last Saturday, it was a five-game losing streak to Cleveland State — a team that dominated the Penguins since early 2018. YSU convincingly ended that recent dominance with a 12-point, defensive-minded win in Youngstown.

YSU (14-11, 7-5 Horizon League) is in third place, a half-game up on the fourth-place trio of Green Bay, Milwaukee and UIC. Northern Kentucky is in second place, trailing Wright State. The top two teams at the end of the regular season get an automatic bye to the league semifinals in Indianapolis. Cleveland State (9-16, 5-7) is two games behind YSU in seventh place.

Detroit Mercy (6-19, 4-8) is in eighth, while Oakland is in ninth (8-17, 3-9). Nothing is taken for granted, especially since YSU is looking for the season sweep of both teams to keep pace in the league standings.

YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun talked about enjoying the Penguins’ last two home games, next week against the top two teams in the league — Wright State and Northern Kentucky. The same could be said of last Saturday’s CSU game.

Usually it’s YSU associate coach Jason Slay who fires up the celebration in the team’s locker room after a win. Calhoun grabbed a water bottle, spraying it over his team as he partook in the merriment.

Holding teams to 70 or fewer points, getting to the line and making a majority of free throws, dominating the rebounding advantage, along with creating second and third chances on possessions — those are keys for the Penguins each and every game.

That usually equals a win, something YSU can see as players shake hands after the game.

There’s the drive to and from Youngstown, the shootaround at visiting arenas, eating meals as a team, enjoying each other’s company.

The basics are essential for YSU, but embracing the journey completes the mission of these Penguins, who are trying to turn the corner on this season.

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