By Brian Yauger
The Youngstown State University men’s basketball program kicked their season off on Nov. 6 on the road in Pittsburgh, taking on the University of Pittsburgh Panthers.
The Penguins have had some success in season openers, winning five of their last eight and are 41-47 all-time in season openers before that game.
YSU came up short with a 69-53 loss to Pitt.
“I think as a competitor you have to be confident in not only yourself, but in your team,” second-year Head Coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “I think our guys saw a little success in the scrimmages so I think they have a good mindset heading into this game.”
“You don’t ever go into a game thinking you are going to shoot the ball that bad. The first two scrimmages, we averaged 13 made threes a game,” he continued. “When you’re playing a Power 5 school, the size of the athletes is so much different. It was good for our guys.”
Calhoun expressed interest in playing Pitt every other year because he believes it helps his team tremendously.
YSU has a fresh roster this season, returning only two starters from last season, sophomores Naz Bohannon and Garrett Covington. The Penguins have nine newcomers to the program in 2018-19, and have just one senior, Noe Anabir.
Only one player on the roster has more than one year of Division I playing experience, junior Devin Morgan, who spent two years at Delaware State University before transfering to YSU.
“We recruited eight players,” Calhoun said. “I think we did a good job of that. We’ve got size, we’ve got length, we’ve got skill. We’ve got some inside guys that can block shots, we’ve got some wings that can really shoot, and I think we’ve got some depth at the point guard spot. We’ve got some guys that give us depth at each position.”
Against Pitt, YSU struggled to shoot as they hit just 27 percent of their shots. A positive was definitely their 32 bench points to Pitt’s nine.
Morgan was more than ready to go before the game.
“We’re very eager,” Morgan said on playing against another team instead of practicing against each other. “We’ve been playing against each other since May, now we had two scrimmages that went pretty well, so we’re excited to play against another opponent, and we’re confident about getting this win, so we’re ready.
Bohannon was named to the 2018 Preseason All-Horizon League Team after a vote from the Horizon League’s head coaches, athletics communications directors and media. Bohannon averaged 7.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season, and scored 230 points and snagged a total of 259 rebounds, the most by a YSU player since 1991-92.
He finished the Pitt game with 10 rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes.
The Penguins’ lone victory over Pitt came in a game at the Beeghly Center in 1976.
“We’ve been together since May,” Morgan said. “With our new guys coming in, I think we have every piece that we needed. We have a lot of scoring, shot blocking, the way we want to play, pressing, shooting threes and getting up and down the court. So, I think with all the guys coming in, that we’re ready.”
YSU is coming off an eight-win season in which turnover was plenty. YSU will look to get all these young guys into the fold and ready to go.
“Part of coaching and recruiting is finding players that just love basketball and buy into the team,” Calhoun said. “What Ola [Olamide Pedersen] does, he comes in with a smile every day and very coachable. He will be an all-league guy down the road. That’s why you coach.”
Pedersen finished the game with four points, three blocks and three rebounds. Kendale Hampton was the offensive star for YSU with 15 points and four 3-pointers off the bench in 16 minutes.
In under two years, there isn’t a single player recruited by former head coach Jerry Slocum. That is quite the turnover in the roster, but it isn’t a concern for Calhoun and this group.
YSU will use this momentum for their game against the University of Akron on Nov. 10 at 4 p.m. at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio.