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Student section needed at Beeghly

YOUNGSTOWN — They come in, look around and take their seat. It’s in the upper level of the Beeghly Center.

Some sit on the hard, wooden benches on the ends behind the baskets, other take refuge on wooden bleachers.

They are students, Youngstown State University students. They come for the free food, which I’ll never pass up myself. Others are curious about the men’s basketball team. The Penguins play tonight at 6 against Cleveland State (9-15, 5-6 Horizon League).

YSU (13-11, 6-5) is in fourth place in the Horizon League, a half-game behind Green Bay, which lost at the Beeghly Center a couple of weeks ago, and two games back of second-place Northern Kentucky.

Tonight, YSU faces a Vikings team that outhustled and outplayed the Penguins in early January. It’s a rivalry game and the last thing the Penguins want is to be swept in the season series.

YSU’s offense has improved since the loss to Cleveland State, and the Penguins have returned to their defensive roots. You could say they’re turning the corner. Time will tell how much, though.

“We have to continue to fight and continue to get better,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “That’s the most important thing.”

One factor which has played into the Penguins’ favor is the growing crowds. There are always the Penguin faithful in the red chairback seats on the lower level. No one can berate a group of officials or ride an opposing team like this group. It’s part of the home-court advantage of the Beeghly Center, a reason why other Horizon League teams hate playing in Youngstown. Too bad for those buttercups.

The crowd surpassed 4,600 a week ago against IUPUI, including plenty of young children in the vast expanse of wooden bleachers bookending the court.

YSU students? They are somewhere to be found, cubbyholed in the general admission section. Where is the student section?

Calhoun wonders the same.

YSU has the fourth-best attendance in the Horizon League, averaging about 2,100 per game for a team that is 10-2 inside the confines of the Beeghly Center. No surprise, Wright State, Oakland and Northern Kentucky each draw more than 3,000 per game. Each venue has strong student sections for each home contest. Each are near the floor, not cast off to the upper part of an arena.

Loud, active crowds enthuse college basketball teams. YSU is no different. You can see it in their faces when the noise rains down on them on the 94-foot playing surface.

It’s about changing the basketball culture, which has been an afterthought for too many years at YSU. This is not just a football city. It can support both entities. Calhoun wants students to get to know one another, shake hands and enjoy a couple of hours inside the Beeghly Center together.

“We’ve got to create a student section,” he said. “We don’t necessarily have a section where our students sit. I think that’s a problem. I get it. We have a lot of those lower-level seats that are sold to season-ticket holders. I think moving forward, to grow the program, we’ve got to do a few things.

“That’s a big one on my plate. That’s something I’ve talked about with Chris (Sumner), our marketing person who’s done a magnificent job. Not only to help us win games, but help students in general. (It has to be) a place where they can go hang out, get a piece of pizza, get to know some new students, learn about each other and have a good time.

“I think that’s what missing right now.”

That factor has been missing for way too long inside a Beeghly Center in desperate need of revamping.

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