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YSU: Intensity, defense, must travel to Chicago

YOUNGSTOWN — John F. Kennedy High School graduate Justin Bofenkamp looked at his current coach, Jerrod Calhoun, near the end of Tuesday’s game with Milwaukee.

No high-flying theatrics or a game in the 80s or 90s. That’s not how this Youngstown State University men’s basketball team is successful.

Back-to-back shot clock violations is more its style. The Penguins limited the Panthers to 21 second-half points, including being held scoreless for about 5 minutes late in the game.

The focus was much different than the first 20 minutes against Milwaukee. Guards Darius Roy and Te’Jon Lucas had combined 21 points in the first half. The pair was limited to 11 in the final 20 minutes. Lucas only had two after intermission.

YSU scored 33 points in the second half and shot 54 percent. Focus and energy brought a once-dormant Penguins team to life. It has all season. Although, it was hard for YSU to find a consistent rhythm to pull away from the eighth-seeded Panthers in this Horizon League first-round game, it found a way to win.

“I went down (the bench) and laughed with Justin Bofenkamp,” Calhoun said. “I said we like to play ugly against Milwaukee. He said, ‘Coach, a win’s a win.’ He’s 100 percent right. We get to go on a plane to Chicago and live another day.”

Tonight at 8 p.m., the fifth-seeded Penguins (18-12) travel to the Gentile Center on the campus of Loyola (Chicago) for Horizon League quarterfinal matchup with the fifth-seeded UIC Flames (16-16).

The venue change was due to a high school robotics competition starting today and running through Saturday at the UIC Pavilion. Admission is free to the game, but parking costs $7. Loyola is on spring break this week.

YSU has enjoyed home-court advantage this season with 13 home wins, a new record since the Penguins started Division I play in the early 1980s.

“We’re starting to get a home-court advantage if we can build off of this going into the future,” Calhoun said.

Other arenas, with the exception of the BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky, the O’Rena in Oakland and the Nutter Center at Wright State, don’t compare to the Beeghly Center. YSU averaged more than 2,300 through seven games. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but consider the other six Horizon League teams can’t even get close to 2,000 per game in mostly multi-use venues like the Covelli Centre.

Tonight, YSU plans to take its defense and energy on the road. When the Penguins hold a team to 70 or fewer points, they have shown they can beat anyone in the league. YSU came back from a 16-point deficit against Northern Kentucky and almost beat the Norse at home.

Defense, which sparks the team’s offense, is how YSU beat UIC, 70-64, on Dec. 30 at the UIC Pavilion. That’s how the Penguins can put themselves in position to advance and head to Indianapolis for Monday’s semifinal. A lack of defense or intensity results in what happened last time against UIC on Jan. 30 in Youngstown, when YSU blew a nine-point lead with less than 4 minutes remaining and lost in overtime.

UIC has won four of its last six games, including a 93-59 win over ninth-seeded IUPUI Tuesday. If the Flames scored 70 or more points, UIC is 10-2. When YSU holds teams to 70 or fewer, the Penguins are 13-2.

It won’t be easy stopping a UIC senior-laden lineup led by 6-foot-2 guard Marcus Ottey (11.6 points) and 6-4 senior Tarkus Ferguson (14.4 points, 5.7 rebounds).

Senior Jordan Blount (6-8) had a season-high 14 rebounds coming off his team’s win at IUPUI. Godwin Boahen, a 5-11 senior guard, had a double-double during a 30-point win at Northern Kentucky. He averages 10.4 points off the bench. Ottey, Ferguson and Boahen have all scored more than 1,000 points in their careers with the Flames, who are active around the perimeter.

“We have to do a real good job at guarding their guards and keeping guys in front and have our post guys help on the ball,” Calhoun said.

Playing a guard-oriented team like Milwaukee prepared YSU for tonight’s challenge against UIC.

“Everybody is going to put you in a pick and roll and go make a play,” Calhoun said. “We’ll have to be really good in our coverage. We got a good taste of it (Tuesday).”

Tonight, YSU has to find a way to defend it.

YSU’s Naz Bohannon and Darius Quisenberry both scored in double figures during both games against the Flames. Bohannon had double-doubles in each contest.

“On the road, our defense has to travel,” Bohannon said. “We have to go out there with the same mentality and go get stops versus UIC.”

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