By Robert Hayes
“Youngstown is starting to turn into a basketball town now.”
Those are the words that freshman Darius Quisenberry uttered after the Youngstown State University Penguins defeated the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames Saturday evening.
The victory represented YSU’s first six-game win streak since the 1997-1998 season.
Quisenberry has been playing lights out for the Penguins (12-16, 8-7), but his 37 points against UIC set a new career high and marked the first time a YSU freshman scored 35 or more points since Dave Zeigler scored 36 points versus Ashland on Jan. 17, 1979.
“I was feeling good. I was trying to score as many as I could for us and I think I had it going, so I kept trying to go and get those easy buckets, but I shot a lot of free throws tonight,” Quisenberry said.
Quisenberry did indeed shoot a lot of free throws, as he stepped up to the charity stripe 16 times during the game, and made 14 of those shots.
The Penguins spent a lot of the evening battling back, as UIC took an 11-4 lead in the early stages of the game. YSU wouldn’t take a lead until the 1:58 mark in the first half when Quisenberry drove in for a layup to make the score 37-36. The Penguins would go into halftime with a slim 43-38 lead.
The second half started off hot for UIC as they would reclaim the lead at 48-46 with 16:22 remaining. YSU wouldn’t score a field goal in the second half until Jelani Simmons hit a jump shot with 8:32 left.
The Penguins would finally regain the lead with 4:33 left, and didn’t look back. YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun believes the players know how to win.
“I think when you get a lot of guys that are used to winning, they’re not getting flustered like we did in the beginning of the year,” Calhoun said.
One wouldn’t be mistaken by thinking the current Penguins are a completely different team from earlier in the season.
Just a few weeks ago, YSU was 2-7 in league play and fighting just for a chance to slide into the Horizon League tournament. Now the Penguins are in fourth place in the league, and battling for a potential first round home game.
The road to a top four finish won’t be easy, as two out of the next three games are against Northern Kentucky University (20-7, 10-4) and Wright State University (16-11, 10-4). YSU is 0-2 against those two teams, but it should be noted both games didn’t see a margin of victory larger than 8 points.
The last home game is set for March 2 against Cleveland State University (8-20, 3-12). That game will also be senior night for Noe Anabir. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. at the Beeghly Center.