By Marc Weems
With the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team (10-13, 4-6 Horizon League) coming off a good win against Cleveland State University (6-16, 2-8 HL), YSU will look to beat both teams from Michigan.
The Penguins play Oakland University (16-7, 6-4 HL) on Feb. 2 and will look to continue their good play of late. YSU has played in three consecutive close games, including a huge win over the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay back on Jan. 20.
YSU head coach Jerry Slocum said the fundamental parts of the game are where YSU is starting to take a big step towards winning multiple games in a row.
“The Green Bay game, the [University of Wisconsin] Milwaukee and the Cleveland State game were all games we played well defensively,” Slocum said. “I thought that we’ve done a really good job on the glass and denying the basketball. I think we could be better at times. Oakland serves a problem for us because they play closer to the basket than anyone in the league.”
Oakland outscores opponents by nearly eight points a game, but has lost four out of their last six games. Oakland won their last game against Milwaukee in overtime. They average the second most points per game (77.8) in the conference behind Green Bay, who averages 80.4 points per game.
Slocum said that Oakland plays as close to the basket as anyone in the league. Oakland has the second-worst 3-point percentage in the conference at 31.1 percent. Despite their poor 3-point shooting, they still average 44.3 percent shooting overall per game.
Defensively they also stay close to the hoop as they are first in the conference with 5.3 blocks per game.
“We’ve tried to step our game up defensively,” YSU guard Francisco Santiago said. “We’ve had to rely on our defense more. Early in the game, our shots aren’t always going to fall and if we can control that then we can stay in games.”
Santiago said, that for the most part, they have played better defense as each game comes and goes.
For YSU offensively, they are the third-best scoring team in the league at 77.3 points per game while shooting 44 percent from the field. They also shoot 33 percent from the 3-point line.
“A couple times we took quick shots when we didn’t need to,” Santiago said about late game situations. “We just don’t need that. When they go in, everything is okay, but they normally don’t.”
Santiago said small things like that are what need to be controlled in order to win close games.
Santiago has been YSU’s best leader — he is first in the league with five assists per game and has a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is also first in the league. He also averages 5.4 rebounds per game and 12 points per game while shooting 47 percent.
“[Santiago]’s got the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league,” Slocum said. “That’s going to be big in the Detroit game because they force to turn the ball over a lot during a game.”
Oakland’s leading scorer, Martez Walker, is the fourth-best in the league at 16.7 points per game. They have three players who average double digit points.
“I think for me, today’s practice is really important,” Slocum said. “If you prepare well and you play well then the results will be there.”
YSU’s other matchup this week is against the University of Detroit-Mercy (5-17, 3-7 HL) who beat YSU in their first meeting 87-71. Detroit’s Jaleel Hogan, who averages 15 points per game, holds the best field goal percentage in the league at 61 percent. He’s also the fifth-best in the league at 1.19 blocks per game.
YSU plays Oakland on Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. and then plays Detroit on Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. as well. Both games finish up a three-game home stand for YSU.