YSU works out kinks in win; league games next
YOUNGSTOWN — Optics. Quick judgements. In a tweet-first, ask-forgiveness-later world, it would be easy to say the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team is struggling.
The Penguins trailed by six points to NAIA West Virginia University Institute of Technology (Beckley, W.Va.) at halftime Monday at the Beeghly Center.
YSU’s team had returned to Youngstown around 11 p.m. Sunday, after playing that afternoon about six hours away at Binghamton University in New York State.
YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun, who announced Sunday on his postgame show the Penguins would host WVU Tech at 4 p.m. Monday, had little preparation time for the contest.
Scheduling has been as tough, if not more grueling, than game preparation in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams like YSU, which had 21 days of quarantine during November, have to scramble for any non-conference game, let alone one at home.
“This year is about adaptability,” said Calhoun, whose team had a second-half rally to beat the Golden Bears, 80-66. “Enjoy, have fun playing. We’ve said that all along. You’ve really, really got to focus. You never know, you could be planning for a game and it’s canceled. Then, we’ve got to go play somebody else.
“Let’s just enjoy the time we have. Let’s get better at practice. Let’s enjoy each other. More importantly, let’s worry about ourselves. Let’s try to get better each day.”
The Golden Bears made the five-plus hour journey northward from Beckley (home of YSU assistant coach Jason Slay) to play Monday’s game. The Penguins knew if they didn’t let the first part of the game against WVU Tech distract them, YSU could have a similar result as its previous two meetings — rallying in the second half.
Calhoun, in his fourth year as YSU’s coach, mentored Fairmont State prior to coming to Youngstown. WVU Tech assistant George Wilmore was on Calhoun’s staff there, while James Long, the Golden Bears’ coach, was a player at WVU, where Calhoun was an assistant coach prior to Fairmont State. That was the connection for Monday’s game.
WVU Tech was 13-of-23 from the floor, 7-of-13 from 3-point range in the first half. The Penguins had seven turnovers as they were 12-of-28 from the floor and 3-of-10 from 3.
Darrin Martin, who led the Golden Bears with 17 points, drove the lane and scored two with 14:44 left as WVU Tech (3-4) regained a 50-49 lead. It was a recurring theme with the Golden Bears as they penetrated the interior defense of YSU quite often.
The Penguins’ defense tightened up in the second half as they went on an 18-2 run after Martin’s basket to pull away past WVU Tech.
Calhoun said he has a great respect for the Golden Bears.
“I knew they would have a great game plan,” Calhoun said. “They were going to play really hard. I think they made shots. They defended us. Our guys didn’t hit the panic button. We got better as the game went on, which is important. Our guys are realistic. They know we have to get better. They also realize we haven’t had a lot of practice. We’re going to gear up for what I think is a great Horizon League.”
YSU opens league play Saturday and Sunday at Northern Kentucky. Horizon League games are scheduled to be played as back-to-back contests each week due to the pandemic, in order to contain a possible spread of the virus to two teams. League teams would play games at two or three sites in a given week.
It was imperative for YSU (3-0) to rotate as many players as possible early this season. The Penguins played all of their 14 active players. Seniors Greyson Kelley and Jamir Thomas are out of the lineup due to injuries.
“We always play a lot of players early, especially in this pandemic,” Calhoun said. “We’re trying to figure out our rotation, six through 10. Each game, we’ve seen a lot of guys emerge. As you play more meaningful minutes and you’re thrown into the battle, you see how certain guys react. Right now, I think we can play eight, nine, 10 guys. It’s been good.
“We’ve seen a lot of different defenses, a lot of different zones.”
Naz Bohannon had 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Penguins, while Darius Quisenberry had 21 points. Quisenberry was honored prior to Monday’s game as Calhoun presented the YSU junior guard with a basketball commemorating his feat of eclipsing 1,000 points Sunday at Binghamton. Freshman guard Shemar Rathan-Mayes added 18 points. Those three have been YSU’s go-to players this season.
“Him and Darius really play well together,” Calhoun said of Quisenberry and Rathan-Mayes. “Naz, we well know, I’m him and DQ’s biggest fan. I’m happy they’re on my team. They’re tough. They’re gritty. They’ve become really great players, two guys that will go down in history here. Pound for pound, Naz is one of the best rebounders that I’ve ever seen at 6-foot-4, 6-5.”
YSU redshirt freshman Kenny Ganley, Jr. had four points, four rebounds and three steals. Not gaudy numbers, but his timely play on the court made him an essential part of YSU’s second-half run.
“KG has been great,” Calhoun said. “He’s been at the right place at the right time on defense. He works really hard. He spent a lot of time in the gym shooting the ball. I think him, Alex Vargo, Will Dunn, Cheick Traore are doing well. There’s some other guys there so we have to get some game experience. I like our depth. I like where we’re at, but he was really good tonight.”
The Penguins are watching film and taking care of their ailing bodies with treatments today. Wednesday and Thursday, YSU is practicing. The team leaves Friday for Northern Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati, and has a shootaround at the BB&T Arena before playing the Norse Saturday and Sunday.
YSU plays eight of its first 10 league games away from Youngstown. The only home games of that stretch are Jan. 1 and 2 against Green Bay.
“We’ve got to be really, really good, understand these games are going to be difficult,” Calhoun said. “Our league is really, really good this year, a lot of third- and fourth-year players in the league. It’s going to be interesting, back-to-back against the same team, I’ve never done it.
It’s something new for all of us, but we have to embrace it and have some fun.”