By Chris McBride
Four games separate the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team from the beginning of Motor City Madness. With the season coming to an end, the remaining schedule for YSU will be the measuring stick for the conference tourney.
YSU (7-20, 5-9 Horizon League) recently split a win and a loss in their previous two road matchups.
Their lone loss came against Illinois-Chicago, (15-12 and 10-4 HL) losing by 25. The Penguins regrouped against Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, (8-17 and 5-9 HL) edging the team by four to win.
“I feel like we didn’t really win on the road this year because we didn’t figure it out,” YSU guard Cameron Morse said. “We did against IUPUI because we match up well.”
These were two drastically lopsided games for a Penguins team struggling to find consistency.
What began as a back-and-forth contest between UIC and YSU eventually turned ugly towards the end of the first half. The Flames engulfed YSU with a 14-7 scoring run to go into halftime up by 13 points in a 47-34 contest.
The Flames offense was headed by Dikembe Dixson with 22 points while Marcus Ottey scored 19 points. Tai Odiase had scored 16 to go with six blocks and Dominique Matthews posted 14 points.
For YSU, Morse continued his climb atop the Youngstown State all-time scoring list, moving into seventh place. With his five assists on the game, Morse moved into a tie for eighth in assists alongside Francisco Santiago.
Morse’s 26 led YSU for the game with other contributions coming from a double-double from Braun Hartfield with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Those two were the lone double figure scorers for YSU.
Heading into the second half, things continued to fall apart for the Penguins. A 58.8 percent shooting barrage continued to elevate the Flames heading down the stretch.
A series of empty possessions would ultimately be the downfall for YSU on the game, as has been the story with a struggling Penguins team.
Things would pick up for YSU against IUPUI, a team with some pitfalls of their own. In their previous matchup, the Penguins won a convincing 14 point game back in January.
This time around things were a little closer with YSU scathing by in a 84-80 win.
Morse had yet another phenomenal game putting up a season-high 28 points on 8 of 17 shooting from the field. Garrett Covington chipped in with 14 of his own. Some relief from the bench came from Jaylen Benton and Tyree Robinson, they put up 12 and 11 respectively.
Leading the way for IUPUI was T.J. Henderson with 22 points while Ron Patterson had 17 points and Aaron Brennan contributed 16.
Off the strength of scoring the first 10 of 15 points scored in the second half, YSU eventually built themselves a 15-point lead.
The Penguins would lead throughout despite a 16-4 scoring run putting the Jaguars within two points with just a minute left. YSU finished the game shooting 51.8 percent from the field.
This week, Morse’s performance earned him his second Player-of-the-Week honors on the season. He’s been thriving in an offense, allowing him to be more free on the court.
“In our offense, we said we were gonna do drag ball screens coming down in transition,” Morse said. “That’s good for me because the defense is not set so I’m able to find a little space coming off the screen.”
Morse went on to say that continued usage of a screen heavy offense will bode well for the team’s offense heading into the final stretch.
“We’re trying to get in the top half of the league,” Morse said. “Oakland and Detroit are two big home games. These games are gonna be crucial for us. Also, being from Michigan, I’ll have a little chip on my shoulder.”
Youngstown State will return home tonight to face one the league’s top teams as they welcome Oakland in Beeghly Center with tipoff at 7 p.m..