Men, women look to get back on track

YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State players exited the floor with looks of dejection.

The Nov. 20 decimation at Kent State was sure to be forgotten. For three-and-a-half quarters, the YSU women’s basketball team had thoughts of redemption. They were more than a glimmer for a team with eight active players — usually facing rosters double their size.

YSU coach John Barnes was visibly frustrated at the post-game news conference following Friday’s loss to Yale.

“That was tough to take,” said Barnes at Monday’s news conference. “Everybody was a little down because they knew how close we were to being 5-1 with five kids out with injuries.”

One of those injured is Amara Chikwe, who has been out the last two games, but Barnes said the 6-foot-1 redshirt freshman’s return for the Penguins next game is up in the air.

The 17-point lead on Yale dissipated as fast as a heat wave on new-fallen snow. The Penguins shooting indicated the team’s downfall, which was less than 17 percent from the floor and 1 of 11 from 3-point range in the final 10 minutes. YSU has shot less than 27 percent from beyond the arc all season.

Senior Alison Smolinski, one of the team’s better shooters, put that part of the team in perspective. She leads the team with 13 points per game and shoots 36 percent from 3.

“I think our confidence is a little low right now,” said Smolinski, whose team hosts Akron (3-0) tonight at 7 p.m. “I think all teams go through shooting slumps.”

The YSU men (3-4), which play at 7 p.m. tonight at Robert Morris (3-3), have won two of its last four games.

The Penguins have two on the road at Robert Morris and Saturday at West Virginia. The game against the Mountaineer is a three-game contract running through 2020, when the Penguins play in Morgantown, W. Va., again. YSU hosts WVU at the Covelli Centre in 2019.

Calhoun, prior to his five-year stint at Fairmont State, was on the Mountaineers coaching staff. He was part of teams coach Bob Huggins guided to Final Four and Sweet 16 appearances.

“For me personally, there’s a lot of memories,” Calhoun said. “I’m not here today without that place. I don’t think people around the country realize what a great coach Coach Huggins is.”

This Penguins team, which starts three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior, has few returning players and a lot of newcomers through the freshman or junior college route.

YSU went 1-2 in a recent trip to New York City where their bus back to the hotel was stuck for several hours on the George Washington Bridge. There was a lot of togetherness during that weekend, something that leads to building a team and a program.

“As a coach, you want to be a little bit better,” YSU men’s coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “You’re not happy with where you’re at right now. At the same time, as long as you can get them to the finish line and play their best basketball at the right time, I think that’s what’s important for our program.”

Junior Donel Cathcart III, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound junior guard from Buffalo, N.Y., lead the Penguins with 10.6 points per game and 94.4 percent from the foul line. Cathcart is averaging 22.5 points and shooting 46.2 percent from 3 the last two contests.

The junior college transfer sees steady improvement in this young YSU team.

“We’re still trying to find our chemistry,” Cathcart III said. “We’re still working on new things. We’re right there.

“We’re getting better every day.”

The YSU women must beat an Akron team led by Austintown Fitch graduate Megan Sefick, who leads the Zips with 21 points a game.

“She’s playing very well for them,” Barnes said. “I’m sure she’ll want to have a great game coming back home. Hopefully that brings some more fans and helps the environment.”

YSU is holding teams to less than 55 points a game, a definite positive for the short-handed Penguins. The shooting, that’s another story.

“I think we should be 5-1, but sometimes things don’t go as planned,” Smolinski said. “We’ve got to look at the positives and bounce back.”