By Joshua Fitch
There’s been a monumental difference since the early part of November, when the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team began its season. Close losses, mental errors and a lot of breakdowns made frustrations build within a young team, as a spot in the Horizon League Playoff bracket looked bleak at best.
That’s all changed now as the Penguins are riding a six-game winning streak, the longest since the 1997-98 season. While early on the Penguins were fighting for their Horizon League lives, they now fight for a home game spot in the tournament.
YSU currently sits in fifth place in the Horizon League standings ahead of its matchup at Northern Kentucky on Feb. 20. To get a home game in the tournament, the Penguins will need to finish in at least fourth place once the regular season has come to an end.
One of the biggest factors that caused the turnaround for YSU has been the emergence of freshman Darius Quisenberry, who continues to make headlines as the Penguins starting point guard.
For the third consecutive week, Quisenberry has won the Nike Horizon League Freshman of the Week, an honor he continues to be grateful for, but will not be complacent with.
“That’s very big for me and my spirits, but I can’t be satisfied because we’re still in fifth place, and I want to be able to host a game here for our fans,” Quisenberry said. “I want to get the fourth or third spot in the Horizon League as a team.”
Quisenberry is coming off a career high 37 points in the Penguins’ most recent win over UIC, 81-73. The freshman standout shot 10-of-19 from the field and went 14-of-16 from the charity stripe. He is YSU’s first freshman in 40 years to have a 35-point game, according to YSU sports information.
Junior guard Devin Morgan, who has played inspired basketball during the winning streak, chipped in 15 points. While Quisenberry is getting a lot of the well deserved recognition, it’s been the team chemistry that turned this season around.
Jerrod Calhoun, second-year coach of the Penguins, added that this group of student athletes didn’t fold when times were tough.
“Anytime you can win with a young group, confidence is a powerful tool, but this group never really waivered even after the rough start. They all stuck together,” Calhoun said. “They always worked hard and just stayed the course. That’s been the biggest lesson these guys have learned this year. Our locker room is in a really good place. You have to be at the best this time of year.”
The Penguins have three games remaining including Northern Kentucky University, followed by playing at Wright State University on Feb. 23 before closing out the regular season at Beeghly Center against Cleveland State University on Mar. 2.
“Both Northern Kentucky and Wright State are very, very good teams,” Quisenberry said. “It’s probably going to be our toughest road trip of the year, but I think we can do it as a team if we believe in each other and play the way we have been [of late].”
The way the Penguins have played of late, they wouldn’t trade a tough close to the season for anything.
“This time of year, what everyone is playing for,” Calhoun said. “We’re playing to host a game, it’s going to be a very tall task for us, but I think our guys are up for it and are excited about it. We’re looking forward to it. There’s a lot of excitement within the city and you can feel it.”