By Chris McBride
Home seems to be where the heart is for the Youngstown State University Men’s basketball team, having dropped two straight. When not playing at home with the friendly rims of Beeghly Center, the Penguins bear a 1-12 record on the road.
YSU (6-17, 4-6 Horizon League) capped off a two-game road trip losing to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (10-15, 5-7 HL) this past Saturday and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (12-13, 5-7 HL) last Thursday Jan 25- two tough but important conference tests for this young Penguins team.
“Honestly, we haven’t really figured it out,” senior Cameron Morse said. YSU’s road struggles have led to a discussion of identity for the young team. “At home, we know who we are. On the road, we’re still trying to find ways to get it done.”
The first time YSU faced Milwaukee earlier in the year, they traded leads in what was a thrilling 72-63 victory for the Penguins. The second time around, YSU was limited to just 31.7 percent shooting en route to a 66-55 loss against a Milwaukee team that shot 55.6 percent.
A pair of freshman led the way for YSU as Garrett Covington scored 15 points while Naz Bohannon had 13 points with six rebounds and four steals. Covington played a major role in keeping the Penguins in striking distance before a scoring run by UWM sealed the game.
The Panthers offense led by Jeremiah Bell and Bryce Nze scored 17 points each. Bell and Nze were instrumental in combating any comeback bids for YSU playing effectively on both sides of the ball.
A seemingly determined YSU team came out shooting to open the second half. YSU went on an 8-0 to tie the game at 42-42. The teams traded jabs but ultimately a 14-0 scoring run with about a minute left bolstered the Panthers to an win.
After Milwaukee, the team went to Green Bay where the road struggles continued for YSU. It fell to the Phoenix 85-67. Once again, this Penguins team struggled to find their rhythm shooting under 40 percent for their second consecutive game.
Khalil Small was the catalyst for a Phoenix offense that saw four players scoring in double figures with his 27 points. Small also added four assists and three steals to complete an all-around game. Other contributors included Kameron Hankerson with 12 points and David Jesperson and Sandy Cohen III with 11 each for the Phoenix.
For YSU, the lone double-figure scorer was Morse who contributed 17 points. Morse at one point helped trim the Phoenix lead to ten in the second half before the three point shooting of Green Bay widened the lead to as high as 20 towards the end of regulation.
Turnover woes for YSU saw the Phoenix converting 17 turnovers into 19 points. That along with streaky 3-point shooting prevailed in the end as Green Bay picked up an important conference victory.
The road ahead on the upcoming homestand bears two of the Horizon League’s best, No. 2 Northern Kentucky University and Horizon League-leading Wright State University.
NKU (15-7, 8-2 HL) is coming off a convincing 72-44 win over Detroit Mercy. NKU held it to just 27.9 percent shooting. Some deadly accuracy from the 3-point line also boasted the big win heading into their game against YSU.
If history is any indication of the present then YSU has good odds against NKU. The series advantage trends towards YSU with a 10-5 advantage in the all-time series. When playing at home, the Penguins are 7-1 against the Norse.
“We feel confident coming in playing those guys, the last three years we beat them here,” Morse said. “We already know what they’re gonna do, we know their returners so we feel confident we can win that game.”
Stepping onto the court this week will be a new look Penguins team compared to the Norse team that stopped their Horizon League Championship bid last year.
YSU looks to find its footing at home as they welcome NKU, Thursday Feb. 1 with tip-off set for 7 p.m. in Beeghly Center.