Youngstown State hammers Cleveland State in Horizon League opener | News, Sports, Jobs

Youngstown State hammers Cleveland State in Horizon League opener | News, Sports, Jobs

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes
Youngstown State center Gabe Dynes (45) shows emotion after a dunk against Cleveland State on Wednesday night at the Beeghly Center. Dynes scored seven points as YSU thumped its Horizon League rival 94-69 in each team’s league opener.

YOUNGSTOWN — Through the first six games of the season, Youngstown State head coach Jerrod Calhoun has been waiting for things to start clicking for his Penguins team.

The potential was there. But, on a team with 12 new players, things were always going to take time.

On Wednesday night, in its Horizon League opener and against a regional rival, YSU finally showcased the potential Calhoun has been searching for, as the Penguins dominated Cleveland State 94-69.

“Their preparation is getting better. Their togetherness is getting better,” Calhoun said. “The more you have meetings, you build trust and the more time you spend with people, you start to trust them and build that relationship. That’s really what it’s about. Every team has talent, but who has the most togetherness and that bond.

“This team is starting to get there. I’ve seen it at practice, and you’re like, whoa. We just put up 94 points and held a team under 70. Not really that surprised because I always say this team’s potential is really, really good. Are you going to maximize your potential? We have lately and that was a good result.”

It started on the defensive end for the Penguins, which then translated to offense, as YSU (4-3, 1-0) scored 19 points off 13 Cleveland State turnovers (5-3, 0-1).

Especially early in the first half, when the Penguins were able to get steals and intercept passes — that sparked a spurt for YSU that led to a double-digit lead that it wouldn’t relinquish. Seven-footer Gabe Dynes was a key aspect of that early stretch, as he got some dunks, rebounds and affected shots in the paint defensively.

“Defensively, we challenged our guys and they rose to the occasion,” Calhoun said. “You gotta win the turnover margin.”

A big part of that was YSU moving guard Brett Thompson into the starting lineup the last two games, which gives the Penguins two primary ball handlers on the floor.

Thompson has parlayed that into his two best performances as a Penguin. After scoring a season-high 14 points against Dayton last week, he followed that up with a 17-point showing against the Vikings.

“That’s just me — I’ve just been staying down,” Thompson said. “I didn’t really complain too much about coming off the bench. I just play my role, being an older guy. I know a lot of people like to start, a lot of people like to come off the bench, it’s just a preference. But me personally, I feel like I do better when I’m in the lineup because I get a feel for the game quicker. And as you can see, I’m excelling right now.”

John Lovelace Jr. led the Penguins with 23 points, the second time he’s hit the 20-point plateau this season. Bryson Langdon also chipped in 14, while Ziggy Reid finished with 10.

The Vikings have three players scoring in double figures this season in preseason all-league first-team selection Tristan Enaruna, sharpshooter Drew Lowder and forward Tae Williams. Slowing down the Vikings starts with slowing down Enaruna.

That trio came in averaging 44.6 points per game collectively this season. In the first half, they combined for just 14 points and finished with just 36. Lowder got a few shots to fall late, but for the most part, they were each held well below their scoring averages.

“Every team in this league presents different challenges — we knew Enaruna with his size and ability, once he gets going, he’s hard to stop,” Calhoun said. “So we wanted to get the ball out of his hands and make him work. Lowder — he’s one of the best off-the-bounce three-point shooters in our conference. So we wanted to be up to touch on the ball screens, we wanted him to see hands.”

Despite YSU pushing its lead up to 20-plus for most of the second half, the Penguins knew the Vikings wouldn’t go away.

Cleveland State had a pair of runs in the second half — the first was a 9-0 run that cut the lead down to 17 with about 12 minutes to go and the second was a 15-3 run that cut the lead back to 17 again with 4:17 left.

Each time, YSU was able to withstand the Vikings’ runs and respond with baskets of their own.

“That’s just being older, and having older guys around you,” Thompson said. “They just know when it’s time to shoot the ball and time to score. We got a lot of good scorers, and that’s what’s going to help us get to March.”

Next up for YSU, the Penguins travel to Moon Township, Pa. on Saturday to face Robert Morris at 2 p.m.

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