As the season continues to unfold for the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team, the chance for one of the three top seeds — and possibly the fourth seed — in the Horizon League is out of question.
However, a strong finish with two games remaining could land the Penguins (15-14, 6-8 Horizon League) the fifth seed when the tournament begins on March 4.
YSU’s first challenge is a road trip to Cleveland State University on Tuesday. The Vikings (19-10, 10-4) rank second in the conference, trailing the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay who already clinched the top spot.
Last time out, the Penguins defeated CSU, 67-66, on Jan. 13 at Beeghly Center.
“They really didn’t give our kids credit the work ethic that it took to win that first game,” coach Jerry Slocum said. “We’ve had some success in that building. None of that stuff is really relevant, unless you win the basketball game.”
At that point, the Vikings were only 2-2 in the conference. They have won nine of their last 11 games with all but one coming against Horizon League foes. Both losses have come at home, including a 68-54 defeat to Green Bay on Feb. 15.
“Charlie Lee [ha]s been their leading scorer,” Slocum said. “If you average their last five games together, Charlie Lee [ha]s been the one that’s sent them over the top. [He’s] a guy that I think has been taking them to another level in terms of him shooting the basketball.”
Lee is averaging 9.7 points per game, and that’s only fifth-best on the roster. Bryn Forbes leads with 16 points per contest while Trey Lewis (13.4), Jon Harris (10.9) and Anton Grady (10.4) rank behind him.
“This is the kind of game where you’ll need to put up somewhere between 72-77 [points] to have a chance to win in their building,” Slocum said. “Our kids will be ready to go.”
The Penguins head to Cleveland coming off a 68-66 defeat at Valparaiso University (17-12, 9-5), the conference’s third-best team. One of the biggest keys was the Crusaders limiting Kendrick Perry who only scored 12 points.
Despite the shaky performance, Perry was honored as the Horizon League Player of the Week. He scored a career-high 35 points in YSU’s 88-83 overtime victory against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“I think any time when you play in this league right now, KP is the focal point or the No. 1 guy that everybody’s scouting,” Slocum said. “Valpo did a good job on him, trying to take him out physically.”
After CSU, the Penguins return home for Senior Night on Saturday against Oakland University, the last regular season game. Oakland (11-18, 6-8) is also in a virtual four-way tie for fifth place. The Penguins lost at Oakland, 86-85, on Jan. 31.
YSU could finish the season anywhere from fifth to eighth place. If the Penguins are the fifth or sixth seed, they will host a game in the first round. They will not host if they finish seventh or eighth. The chance of playing last-ranked University of Illinois at Chicago (5-23, 0-14) is not a possibility.