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YSU men trying to follow Penguin women’s model

YOUNGSTOWN — One and done, it cannot happen. We’re not talking about a song relegated to a replay list on Sirius XM Radio. This is about a defensive mentality. It needs to be as habitual as me grabbing a coffee pod, plopping it my single-serve Keurig, add water and wait for the morning java to flow into my cream-colored mug.

Repetition makes it so, especially when you’re on the road in the Horizon League. Hollow buildings where the obsessive fan spews their pent-up rage in your direction, bouncing off the indoor facility and directed toward you, the visiting player. Unfamiliar, hostile territory. You need something to combat the disadvantage you’re facing.

Defense.

Youngstown State University men’s basketball team harnessed that in the first half of Saturday’s 76-51 win at Milwaukee, limiting the Panthers to 14 first-half points, similar to first halves at Ohio State and Binghamton. Compound that with shooting more than 53 percent from 3-point range and the floor. That, my friends, is the 40-minute game YSU (5-12, 1-3 Horizon League) needed.

Getting Naz Bohannon, the team’s vocal leader on the floor, back from a health scare, is what the doctor ordered for these Penguins, still stinging from narrow losses against Green Bay, Oakland and Detroit. His intangibles and rebounding are vital to YSU’s success.

Calhoun sees the potential of this young team, which has one senior in Noe Anabir. Freshmen and sophomores are leading scorers for this YSU team trying to establish a winning culture in Youngstown.

Penguins women’s coach John Barnes has emphasized defense in the six years he has been at the YSU helm, holding teams to 53.5 points this season. It’s a model Calhoun hopes his players adopt after giving up more than 76 points in the team’s first three Horizon League games.

“We have to learn how to win,” Calhoun said. “I think we did that on Saturday. That’s the biggest key to building a program. You look what coach Barnes has done. Those girls are rocking and rolling. They just beat a tremendous team here. When you see that team, you see that continuity. Those girls have been together.

“You see that swag that they have.”

Yeah, swag is something deterred in the YSU women’s side. It’s all business, never any bulletin-board material from this band of young women and coaches.

Satisfied with being 12-3 and atop the Horizon League with a 4-0 record? Never. Good is never enough for quality teams, which YSU faces today at Milwaukee and Saturday at the dominant force of the league for the past couple of decades –Green Bay. The Phoenix’s 7-8, 2-1 record should not fool you, neither should the 5-9, 0-3 mark of Milwaukee.

YSU hasn’t swept Green Bay since the 2013-14 season and has lost 12 straight to the Phoenix since Barnes’ first season. Milwaukee and YSU split the regular-season series in 2017-18 as both games were decided by a point.

This Penguins team takes nothing for granted.

“I think we have been a close-knit group since summer,” Barnes said. “We’ve grown each day, relied on each other, pushed each other to get better. I still think we have a long ways to go. I think we’re making steps every day. Happy to see how they’re gelling not only on the court, but off the court.”

The YSU men have cohesiveness as well, but they need consistency. Tonight’s game at UIC and Saturday at IUPUI are vital since these Penguins are still in contention for the top eight in the league, which make the Horizon League Tournament, the model the men and women follow. Seeds one through four host five through eight in the first round. From there, the semifinals and finals are at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit.

YSU hosts Wright State and Northern Kentucky after this two-game road swing. Nothing is a given for this Penguin men’s team, which is looking to make its climb out of ninth place in the Horizon League.

“It’s got to start with that defense,” Calhoun said.

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