YOUNGSTOWN — After a frustrating few days at its multi-team event earlier this season, the Youngstown State men’s basketball team has started to find itself.
“What’s happened with our team is we have a little bit of an identity now. We’re starting to build that, and it’s defense,” YSU head coach Jerrod Calhoun said.
For the second time in as many games, that defense delivered in a YSU victory.
The Penguins held Division III Westminster to a 21-for-71 day from the field and forced 17 turnovers in an 83-54 victory Saturday at the Beeghly Center, extending the YSU win streak to five games.
A week ago, the Penguins used a stingy defensive performance to top visiting Canisius 71-43 in a game Calhoun said was the best defensive effort he’s seen in his time in Youngstown.
“If you just play defense, you’ve got a shot,” Calhoun said. “I keep telling our guys to just keep buying into the defense, and they’re doing it. Because defense will turn into offense.”
That was the case for YSU (7-3), as the Penguins, which never trailed, scored 19 points on the fast break and 16 points off of Westminster turnovers.
And if there’s an offensive identity to pair with YSU’s defensive mindset, lately it’s one based on balanced scoring.
Five different Penguins scored in double figures Saturday, the fifth straight game where at least three Penguins eclipsed 10 points and second time five players did so.
Chris Shelton used a scorching performance from beyond the arc to pace YSU with a game-high 16 points. The transfer junior came off the bench and connected on 4-of-8 treys.
Behind him, Shemar Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Cohill each logged 12 points, Tevin Olison added 11 points and Luke Chicone scored 10.
Cohill had an impressive day on the boards, securing seven rebounds. Olison grabbed five boards.
Chicone was once again efficient at running the point, as he notched six assists to just one turnover in 22 minutes of game time off the bench.
The Penguins managed to rotate 12 players into the game, and all but one of them scored.
“It’s great to play these games just to allow our guys to build up that confidence, but if I’m being completely honest with you, the bench could start and produce at that same level (as the starters),” Rathan-Mayes said. “I think that’s what makes us unique this year. There’s really not a bench or a starting unit. Everybody can produce.”
Still, Calhoun felt the shooting could have been better. YSU went 28-of-68 from the field — 41.2 percent — but “missed a lot of layups” and “a few chippies that we normally make,” the coach said.
He added, “You have to credit Westminster. We have a lot of respect for their program. We know a lot of their players. … They run good stuff. I thought they guarded us early in the game really well.”
The Penguins built their lead quickly, leading 13-4 by the under-16 media timeout of the first half. That advantage floated around 10 for much of the first half, until YSU went on an 8-2 run to go up 31-16 and then closed out the half on a 7-0 spurt to take a 38-19 advantage into the break.
Early in the second half, Cohill hit a layup to push the lead to 40-19, and Westminster didn’t get back to within 20 the rest of the way. YSU ballooned its lead to as large as 31 a couple times before taking the 29-point win.
Westminster was paced by Daniel Ritter’s 13 points. Ritter, a South Range grad, is one of six Titans that hail from the Mahoning Valley and began his career at YSU before transferring. Warren JFK alumnus Tyler James added 10 points, while forward Josh Hutcherson scored four points and secured 11 rebounds.
The Penguins finish their non-conference slate Wednesday evening at West Virginia before Horizon League play resumes Dec. 30 at Detroit Mercy.
“We’re just focused on the next game. We know that we got four big ones on the road (WVU, UDM, Oakland and Robert Morris),” Rathan-Mayes said. “I feel like the team is really, really excited about where we’re going, the direction that we’re going in and our chemistry.”