YOUNGSTOWN — As its three-game homestand comes to a close today, things seem to be clicking for the Youngstown State men’s basketball team.
After a 2-3 start to the season, the Penguins now sit at 6-3 overall, having won four consecutive games — including a sweep of Milwaukee and Green Bay during a Horizon League road trip.
A few things have transpired to put YSU in position to now sweep its homestand as Division III Westminster College travels to the Beeghly Center for a noon contest.
First, the offense has picked up since Garrett Covington’s injury. In the first two game’s following the senior’s season-ending Achilles rupture, YSU averaged just 59 points per game.
Since then, the Penguins have scored at least 70 points in each of their contests — YSU is 5-0 this season when doing so — and are averaging nearly 77 points per game.
Head coach Jerrod Calhoun points to strong ball movement and the team getting comfortable with its line configurations.
“I think the guys are doing a really good job of finding one another, and I think our rotations are starting to become natural,” Calhoun said. “Guys off the bench are coming in and understanding what we’re trying to accomplish, and it’s not just one guy.”
Indeed, three different players are averaging in double figures right now. Dwayne Cohill is up to 10.1 points per game after impressive showings against Green Bay (15 points), Central Michigan (20 points) and Canisius (18 points). Tevin Olison has been steady most of the year and is scoring 13.1 points per contest, while Michael Akuchie is leading at 14.7 points per game.
And on the other end of the court, YSU is coming off its most impressive defensive performance of the season, holding Canisius to just 43 points in a 71-43 demolition of the Golden Griffins.
YSU had an odd practice schedule this week due to final exams, so Calhoun says the team will lean on its defense once again to generate momentum and good looks at the other end.
“That’s going to be our mindset: defense is going to lead to good offense,” he said. “I say the best offenses have the best defenses, because they get stops and they run and they share. We have to continue to guard the ball, and we have to be good off the ball being in the gaps, and just be the aggressor on defense.”
That will be critical, as the Titans come in averaging 78.3 points per game, largely on their 3-point shooting percentage of 37.9.
“Once they get going, they’re hard to stop, so we have to lock into the game plan,” Calhoun said.
Westminster is doing that with plenty of Mahoning Valley talent eager for a chance to play at YSU. The Titans feature six graduates of area high schools, each of which contribute —
Daniel Ritter (South Range), Anthony Ritter (South Range), Tyler James (Warren JFK), Andrew Clark (Springfield), Reese Leone (West Branch) and Jordan Zupko (Mineral Ridge).
Daniel Ritter, who played for Calhoun and YSU in 2017-18, leads Westminster with 18.4 points per game, while Leone scores 16 points per contest. James also averages in double figures at 11.6 points, while Clark adds 7.3 per game and Zupko adds 2.5 per game.
Calhoun knows firsthand what the Titans can do, as he worked with Westminster’s players during a clinic back in the fall.
“I knew they were good back then just by looking at them,” Calhoun said. “Dan Ritter played for me here in my first year; he’s tough. They have a lot of local kids, so they bring a lot of fans and it’s an exciting game for them.”
The Titans also have been in their share of close calls, Calhoun pointed out. Of Westminster’s eight games to date, seven have been decided by two possessions or less.
“They’ve played a lot of situational basketball early in the year,” Calhoun noted. “So they’re battle tested.”