By Chris McBride
Twenty-five lead changes, 20 ties and no lead beyond five points made Senior Night one with plenty excitement. Despite a hearty effort from the Youngstown State Men’s Basketball team with five players in double figures, it failed to secure the win.
The Penguins dropped to 8-23 with a 6-12 record in the Horizon League.
Cleveland State University improved to 9-22 and 6-12 in the Horizon league sneaking away with a 99-94 win in double overtime. The performance of the Vikings’ Bobby Ward, who scored the team-high 25 points, was leading the way for CSU.
“That loss was tough, tough on the players, the fans. It’s a game you sit there and think how did we lose?” YSU Head Coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “The reason we lost was because Cleveland State made more winning plays.”
Jaylen Benton led the scoring charge for YSU with 21 points. Cameron Morse with 20 points adjusted to initial pressure from the Vikings’ defense, doing most his scoring in the second half.
Morse went on to hit several key shots to keep YSU in the game.
“I had to keep working, cut hard and find a way to get shots up,” said Morse about his struggles in the first half. “They were keying in on me so I had to find a way to get shots up, get out in transition and get easy ones.”
Capping off his time with Youngstown, Morse ends his climb up the all-time ladder becoming the sixth player in school history to score 1,900 career points.
The game also capped a regular season filled with many struggles as the team never fully lived up to what Calhoun had envisioned.
A constant struggle for this team made one last damning appearance for YSU: free throw shooting.
Against the Vikings, the Penguins went 12-27 from the charity stripe averaging 44.4 percent shooting, below their average on the season. Within those misses was an opportunity for YSU to sway the game in their favor, leaving 15 points on the board.
Youngstown State finished off the year ranked at the bottom half of the NCAA in free throw shooting.
Where YSU struggled, Cleveland State thrived as it shot the ball well in every aspect of the game. The Vikings shot over 50 percent from the field, from three and at the free throw line.
Whether the Penguins will make a run akin to last year’s remains to be seen.
In order to do so there are holes the team will need to fill fast. Though by now this is a Penguins team that knows where they struggle.
“There’s less stuff to go over as a coach. You’re not going over tons of things because you’re familiar with what they’re gonna do,” said Calhoun. “Hopefully our guys understand why we lost that game and make the adjustments to be successful.”
With two games split between the two teams, YSU and CSU will look to settle the difference in round one of the tourney. Heading into tournament play, Calhoun sees it as a hard reset on the regular season.
“Everybody in the conference is zero and zero, there’s not a team right now that’s won a game in the tournament. It’s a tournament that’s to be determined who will get that right to play on Tuesday night,” Calhoun said.
For a young team, there’s been quite a learning curve this year. The time for learning is still there but translating that into wins in the tournament will be instrumental.
Calhoun insists this is a team that has grown and understands their roles.
“You grow through the struggles,” Calhoun said. “You grow through the progress of the season. If you’re gonna go win a championship you really have to grow up on a big stage because that’s what the good teams do.”
The Penguins will head to Detroit, MI to participate in the Little Caesar’s Horizon League Championship, March 2-6. YSU plays CSU on Friday at 8 p.m.