YOUNGSTOWN — During the toughest part of its schedule, Youngstown State can now look forward to seven home games of the remaining 11 in the regular season.
This stretch begins this weekend with a pair of conference teams that YSU (10-10, 4-6 Horizon League) has already taken care of, as Green Bay goes tonight and Milwaukee goes Saturday.
As such, YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun is hopeful his team can gain some momentum after a tough January that has so far seen the Penguins go 2-6.
If the Penguins want to reverse their fortunes, however, they’ll have to start shutting down games. In all but one of those losses, YSU had opportunities in the final minutes of the game to take control, only to suffer a loss for one reason or another.
“It takes one to make it work” Calhoun said, adding later, “All the games we lost, we were there. At the end of the day, we’re a game or sometimes a rebound, or whatever the game is. We’re just there; we must stay the course.
In its first meeting with Green Bay (4-14, 3-6) on December 4, YSU earned its most decisive league victory of the season, an 82-58 shellacking. The Penguins led 40-31 at halftime before outscoring the Phoenix by 15 points for the remainder of the run.
Four Penguins scored in double digits that night – Tevin Olison (20), Michael Akuchie (17), Dwayne Cohill (15) and Shemar Rathan-Mayes (15).
“I think we did a really good job of removing some things. They missed a lot of shots. Calhoun noted, before cautiously adding, “They play a lot of young guys, so they’ve improved. They’re playing pretty good basketball right now. I think some of these kids are some of the best young players in the league, so their team is capable of playing at a high level.
Indeed, the Phoenix shot just 19 of 46 from the field and 5 of 20 from 3-point range.
However, three Green Bay players are posting double-digit averages: Emmanuel Ansong (12.2), Donovan Ivory (11.4) and Kamari McGee (10.9).
“The tricky thing about our league is that anyone can play any night,” Calhoun added.
Milwaukee, meanwhile, was a lot tougher for the Penguins on that December trip to Wisconsin. In what Calhoun describes as “one of the craziest games” this season, YSU escaped with a 70-68 win.
Olison led that effort with 18 points, while Owen Long scored 17 off the bench for the Penguins.
After entering the final two minutes of the game tied at 64, YSU edged the Panthers the rest of the way to secure the win.
DeAndre Gholston led UWM (7-13, 5-6) and all scorers that night with 24 points. He is Milwaukee’s leading scorer with 15.6 points per game, while Josh Thomas scores 10.7 and highly touted 5-star rookie Patrick Baldwin Jr. scores 13.4.
Baldwin hasn’t played since Jan. 5 and has only played eight games this year.
“It’s a physical team, and they play a lot of guys,” Calhoun said of Milwaukee. “They are very, very capable of playing at a high level.”
As for his team, Calhoun says his team emphasizes the importance of every possession in hopes of getting more assists, moving the ball better and reducing turnovers.
The keys to that, he says, are slowing down and getting the reads right, as well as the roster being fully adjusted to his set of roles.
Expect forward Will Dunn to make even more runs this weekend, following his impressive showing at Purdue Fort Wayne.
The sophomore scored a season-high 20 points on an 8-for-8 performance from the field, and Calhoun said he’ll see an increase in playing time as a result.
On the final weeks of the regular season and those improvements, Calhoun concluded, “Hopefully down the stretch everyone is ready to finish some of these games, and I feel like our guys understand how close we are. They’re going to keep fighting, and that’s the good thing about this group.