By Dan Hiner
The Youngstown State University men’s basketball team is heading down to Northern Kentucky University for its first road conference game of the season.
The Penguins are coming off a 90-77 loss to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and YSU head coach Jerry Slocum said the team needs to get back to working on fundamentals.
One of the fundamentals that has to improve is the team’s free throw shooting. The Penguins rank sixth in the Horizon League in free throw percentage (68.1 percent), but in the first two games of conference play, the Penguins have shot 50 percent from the charity stripe.
“The main concern is that some of our better foul shooters aren’t shooting it well,” Slocum said. “Half of the key to a good foul shooting percentage is to get our good foul shooters to the line. I think that we kinda done that over our last couple games with Cam [Cameron Morse], Cisco [Francisco Santiago], Rahim [Williams], Matt [Donlan]. [We] didn’t shoot it well in the Milwaukee win, which could have made life easier.”
Slocum went on to say that poor foul shooting and turnovers are “like a virus” and the only way of dealing with those issues is through hard work and fundamentals.
Now the Penguins will get ready for the Norse on Thursday. Northern Kentucky is one of the surprise teams in the Horizon League this season. After a 9-21 record last season, the Norse enter the game at 10-5 and 1-1 in conference play.
Slocum said one of the keys moving forward is the production from the players surrounding Cameron Morse. Opposing defenses are starting to double team Morse, making the contributions from scorers like Francisco Santiago and Matt Donlan more important.
Donlan has struggled this season. After averaging 13.1 points per game last season, he’s only averaged 7.6 points per game over the last month. Donlan, a 3-point specialist, also has seen a drop in his shooting from behind the arc. Over the last month, Donlan has averaged 22 percent from behind the arc. Prior to Dec. 10, Donlan was averaging 44 percent from deep.
“Matt has struggled. He knows it, you know it, I know it. He’s a great kid and a good player,” Slocum said. “Shooters are gonna have slumps. It’s just the nature of this game. You’re not gonna go through a five-month season without a little ups and downs. He’s in a low. I’m very confident that he’ll be out of it.”
YSU will also travel to Wright State University on Saturday. Wright State is also entering the week with a 10-5 record and 1-1 in the Horizon League.
“Wright State is off to a really, really good start with maybe a Player of the Year candidate in [Mark] Alstork,” Slocum said.
Alstork is third in the Horizon League is scoring with 19.7 points per game and 15th in rebounding with 4.9 rebounds per game.
Wright State is third in the Horizon League in scoring defense (70.4 points per game). The Raiders also lead the conference in 3-point percentage, entering the week shooting 39 percent from behind the arc.
Tipoff for the Northern Kentucky game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, and the Wright State game is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday. Both games can be seen on ESPN3.