By Joshua Fitch
Thirty games have come and gone for the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team throughout an up-and-down season. One game remains on the regular season schedule, a matchup with the Cleveland State University Vikings on Saturday.
This is also the last home game for the Penguins before the Horizon League tournament begins on March 5 in Detroit. The top eight teams in the Horizon League standings get into the tournament, something the league adopted this season.
Currently, the Penguins sit in seventh place in the standings, while the University of Detroit Mercy Titans hang on to the last playoff spot.
The Penguins and Titans each have nine losses in conference play this season, meaning if YSU falls this weekend while Detroit Mercy wins out, they could swap seventh and eighth place spots.
Not that long ago, it seemed the Penguins wouldn’t be in a position to figure out playoff seeding position, but thanks to a recent six-game winning streak, the red and white have found themselves in the playoffs.
When the season comes to a close, the winning streak in February is what fans will remember. It came at the right time, too. The Penguins dropped two consecutive games on the road to Northern Kentucky University, 76-69, and a blowout against Wright State University, 82-54.
Against NKU, Darius Quisenberry went out after the first play of the game due to an injury, but returned in limited action against Wright State.
“I thought our kids played tremendous. To lose our starting point guard, a guy who has been influential throughout the entire season, [we still] were one or two possessions away from beating Northern Kentucky,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “Going to Wright State, I just tip my hat. I thought they played their best game of the year.”
Calhoun said the Penguins practiced Monday and Tuesday, but took off Wednesday in preparations for Cleveland State, a game in which the Penguins have a final chance to improve during the regular season.
“With this league, you have to bounce back because it’s winding down. It’s a good week to get better and a chance to get some great momentum heading into the tournament,” he said.
Calhoun added Quisenberry sat out a few days of practice this week and is expected to play on Saturday. He said junior guard Devin Morgan and sophomore guard Garrett Covington each stepped up in the loss to Northern Kentucky.
The final game at Beeghly Center on Saturday is also Senior Night, and potentially the last home game for the only senior on the roster, Noe Anabir.
“I think Saturday’s really about Noe, his family is coming in to watch him play,” Calhoun said. “It means a lot, but I don’t necessarily enjoy Senior Night because it’s hard to say goodbye to your players. What he’s meant to our program has been a lot, from mentoring guys and playing his tail off. He’s been a big impact on our kids and coaches.”
Anabir, the 6-foot-8-inch forward from Geneva, Switzerland, said it was his dream to come to the United States and play collegiate basketball. Now that his time is coming to a close at YSU, he’s very grateful how things turned out.
“It means a lot of hard work [was put in],” Anabir said. “I did it, but it ends this Saturday, so I’m kind of sad, excited. I don’t know. There’s mixed feelings, but I’m happy that I achieved my goal.”
Even more special to Anabir, his parents are coming from Switzerland to see their son, potentially in his last game in Youngstown.
“I have my mother and stepfather coming and I’m happy they can make the trip,” Anabir said. “It’s time consuming to come across continents to come see me, but they did it for me because they love me and I love them. I’m very happy.”
Senior Night tips off at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Beeghly Center. Keep in tuned to TheJambar.com following the game for a wrap-up and closer look ahead to the Horizon League tournament, set to begin on March 5.