YSU men pursue more home games

YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State University men’s basketball had a grand total of seven home non-Horizon League games in the first two years of Jerrod Calhoun’s tenure as Penguins coach.

That’s not acceptable for a program, especially one trying to expand its fan base.

The four home games in November and December of this past season were among the lowest in the Horizon League. Teams like Northern Kentucky had eight non-conference home games this season, including a multi-team event in which the Norse had three guaranteed home games, hosting Coastal Carolina, Manhattan and UNC Asheville.

YSU was leaning toward a similar situation at the Beeghly Center for the 2019-20 season, but a scheduling conflict with the venue prevented that possibility.

“There was a complication with the gym with volleyball,” Calhoun said.

The Penguins program is leaning to hosting a multi-team event in the 2020-21 campaign, but will participate in one on the road this upcoming season.

YSU had nine non-conference games that were on the road or at a neutral site last season.

“I think in year four it makes a little more sense for us, but we are very close to wrapping up the schedule,” Calhoun said. “Youngstown fans will be very, very happy. It will be the most home games we’ve had here in years.

“One of the frustrations is to not have so many non-conference home games.”

The Penguins are one of the youngest teams in college basketball, and constantly being on the road doesn’t help.

This year’s team started 4-9, ending the non-conference with a good first half against a then-ranked Ohio State team. YSU eventually had a six-game winning streak to pull out of the Horizon League basement into sixth place in the league, advancing to the league tournament.

That was after the first half of the league schedule when YSU had numerous games in which one, two or three plays cost the Penguins.

“I was very, very proud of our guys getting better each and every step of the way. From November all the way to the end of the year you saw tremendous growth,” Calhoun said. “They could’ve hung their head and got down when we lost so many of those close games.”

Calhoun wants there to be more home games in the non-conference portion, to acclimate the YSU fan base and not have them wait until January or February to see the Penguins in Youngstown.

“I think we’re addressing all of those,” Calhoun said. “Not only do we have a lot of talent coming back for the first time, but our schedule is heading in the right direction. (YSU Director of Athletics) Ron Strollo has been awesome. He understands it. He’s done his research from the other teams in the league. We want to get on an equal playing field moving forward.”

YSU is starting to move forward with a three-game series with West Virginia. It started last year at Morgantown, West Virginia, and the Mountaineers are scheduled to play the Penguins at the Covelli Centre this season and then host YSU again in 2020.

“To be able to get a high-major team in your city, granted it’s not at the Beeghly Center, is great,” Calhoun said. “They wouldn’t agree to that. It’s at the Covelli Centre. It’s in Youngstown. It’s a win-win. You can not only play a great opponent, get better from and hopefully compete with now.

“You can have a lot of excitement within the city. There’s going to be a lot of local kids. Derek Culver from Boardman and Oscar (Tshiebwe) from Kennedy Catholic. My goal is to sell that thing out and make a lot of money for our university.”

The YSU men’s goal is to play one or two high major schools next year, not three or four. West Virginia is not counted in the high majors because YSU already had the Mountaineers locked in a three-year deal.

Westminster is on the schedule for next year and will be for a while with the good relationship the Penguins have with the Titans.

“We’ve been there and done that the first two years,” Calhoun said. “We’re going to try to buy a game. This is the first time Youngstown has been able to buy a game. We don’t know who that will be. We’re still working on that. I think to get to where those other teams are, we’ve got to start buying a game and we have to play less money games.

“I’d like to play one money game after this year moving forward then I think we would be on equal playing field and put yourself in a position all the other teams are doing.”

The YSU schedule is expected to be released in the near future.