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Damn, think I’m going crazy. Last night I had this dream that I was playing for Youngstown State. Only thing was that I kept getting charging fouls called on me. Charge after charge after charge. I was like a bull in a china closet, a demolition derby car bashing into other cars, a bowling ball knocking down pins. The dream went on so long I should have fouled out of the game 2 or 3 times. And I never did make a basket. I guess my high school coach was right about me. 

What the hell? Who has dreams about charging fouls? I’m telling you about this, but certainly won’t let anyone know at the newspaper, since they’d hang it over my head forever.

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Youngstown State Topples Stony Brook
By Steve Porter

Last night the Penguins travelled to New York to take on the Stony Brook Seawolves who entered the game with a 3-3 record. 

Playing soundly, the Penguins led throughout most of the first half, but the refs rewarded the home team and allowed the Seawolves to pull ahead 33-32 at the break. PF Kareem Toole scored 8 points in the game’s first 8 minutes but then was relegated to the bend due to foul trouble.

The two teams played to a 41-41 tie midway through the 2nd half, but then the Penguins pulled away to take a 10 point lead with 6 minutes to play. Stony Brook cut the lead to 3 with a minute to go, but the Penguins hung on to win 69-64. 

C Jamal Grady scored 13, PF Kareem Toole added 12, and C Steven Puzey hit for 11 (plus had 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks). Youngstown State’s record now stands at 5-3.

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Lynn, my present girlfriend, asked me today when I’m going to look for a promotion or a new job. That caught me unaware. I hadn’t really even considered it. I go to work every day and do what’s expected of me. Turn out some columns. Fill some space in the sports section. I’m satisfied. I finally said to her, “Why should I do something else?” She said that people need to be moving forward. Doing the same thing for 6 years isn’t moving forward. Well that resulted in an unpleasant argument and me storming out. I suspect she will be following her thought-process of today and…moving forward from me very soon.

I’ve had a series of girlfriends. No long termers and no one very serious. While I was ruminating about our argument, I got thinking about their names. The last ones (in reverse order of appearance)…Lynn, Ann, Jill, Grace, Jane. All one syllable. None named Danielle, Alexandra, or Stephanie. I looked up the most popular girl baby names in the year I was born. Numbers 1 through 5: Jessica, Ashley, Brittany, Amanda, Samantha. All the names in the Top 50 had 2 or 3 syllables. That’s right, no one-syllable names. Seems that Youngstown is out of step with America and goes for plain names. Hell, my folks named me STEVE, not STEVEN.

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Penguins Topped by Highlanders
By Steve Porter

The first half between Youngstown State and the Radford Highlanders was sloppy with a total of 26 turnovers. The Penguins held a lead early but Radford came on toward the end of the half to take a 30-28 lead to the locker room. 

In the 2nd half, Radford zeroed in on the net, hitting 51% for the entire game. The Highlanders pulled away to drop the Penguins 74-58. 

C Steven Puzey had a big game for Youngstown State with 18 points and 8 rebounds.

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I finally got a chance to talk with Coach Durst for a little while. He said he and the team were happy to be back home after 4 straight games on the road. He also said he was happy to have been able to come away with a split. He’s concerned about their upcoming game against Toledo, though. Even though it’s a home game, the Rockets are a step up in strength and talent from the teams they’ve played thus far. 

When asked about the strength of his team, Durst said thus far it primarily revolved around his center and point guard position. Puzey and Grady have combined to score about 20 ppg and pull down 11 rpg at the center position and Surpin is solidifying the offense from his point guard position plus being the team’s top scorer with nearly 12 ppg. 

He said the weakest aspects for his team have been turnovers, 3-point shooting, and defense. They’ve been working hard on defense and ball control in practice and he felt it will result in improvement as the season progresses. He’s less positive about their outside shooting since that is an individual skill that is likely to develop more slowly. I got the sense that they will try working the ball inside more and taking fewer outside shots.

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Penguins Fly Higher Than Rockets
By Steve Porter

Youngstown State jumped out to a lead and extended it to 20-10 after just 6-1/2 minutes of play by outhustling the Toledo Rockets. Toledo then chopped the lead to just 3 points, but the Penguins were able to recover and rebuild a substantial lead and finally finishing the half ahead by a 44-31 score. C Jamal Grady scored 10 points to lead the Penguins offensively.

The Penguins came back even stronger in the 2nd half, shooting well and dominating the boards. They steadily expanded their lead to drub the Rockets 86-68. The win improved Youngstown State’s record to 6-4.

Besides outshooting the Rockets 52% to 41%, the Penguins controlled the boards, hauling down 39 rebounds compared to Toledo’s 29. Jamal Grady hit 12 of 17 shots in the 14 minutes he was on the floor to finish with 25 points as well as grabbing 7 rebounds. PG Ryan Surpin chipped in 14 points while dishing out 7 assists and pulling down 6 boards. C Steven Puzey scored 10 points and had 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals.

During the post-game interview, Coach K.D. Durst praised his team for never letting down throughout the entire game. “I was proud of how our team stepped up their game tonight and kept their foot down on the accelerator against the toughest team we’ve played thus far this season. Our two centers both had outstanding games, combining for 35 points and 16 rebounds.” But Durst reserved his highest compliments for his team’s defense, rebounding, and ball control. “The guys really pulled together defensively and kept the Rockets under control throughout the game. That together with how they blocked out on the boards and also finished with just 11 turnovers were keys to our winning tonight.” Asked about his team’s 3-point shooting which has been a weakness throughout the season thus far, Durst said, “You know, our guys still have a long way to go to alleviate what seems to be a team-wide mental block on shooting from beyond the arc during games. But tonight I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. We hit 5 of 14 of our 3-point attempts. Not great, but an improvement. We’re going to continue to work on it so hopefully our shooting from out there becomes a strength at some point. Also tonight we were effective at working the ball inside, so that was a big plus. We scored 44 points in the paint!”

Not unsurprisingly, C Jamal Grady picked up his 2nd Freshman Player of the Week award for the Horizon League, based on his 25 point, 7 rebound game against Toledo.

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Penguins 6-4 Entering League Play
By Steve Porter

Next week the Youngstown State Penguins begin Horizon League play. Their pre-conference record is 6-4. Here’s how they have fared thus far this season:

East Tennessee State, L 64-76
@ Longwood, L 68-89
SMU, W 77-75
@ Niagara, W 76-64
Morehead State, W 71-64
@ Elon, W 85-72
@ SE Louisiana, L 63-84
@ Stony Brook, W 69-64
@ Radford, L 58-74
Toledo, W 86-68

As they were leaving practice yesterday, I caught up with 3 of the team’s seniors. Kareem Toole said, “We’re excited to get into Horizon League play. We played pretty well during the pre-conference segment of our schedule, particularly since 6 of our 10 games were on the road. I think we’re gelling as a team and have begun to more effectively employ Coach Durst’s strategies. So I’m optimistic about how we will do in league play.” Ryan Surpin expressed, “We were too tentative in our early games this season, but have been playing more confidently as the season has progressed. This is my fourth and last year here, and believe me, it’s a lot more fun winning rather than losing regularly as we’d done during my first 3 years.” Toole added, “Coach D has been working our tails off in practice. And Ryan has taken command of our team during games and is directing our offense so that we’re turning the ball over less and taking better shots.” Steven Puzey then commented, “Not only that, but Coach Durst has worked with us to get better position and block out more effectively on the boards. He keeps a running tally of how we’re faring against our opponents on the boards and gives us hell if we let them get the best of us.”

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My editor, Tracy Tason, surprised me earlier this week asking how I’d like to spend Christmas in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He’s willing to spring for the bucks to cover the Penguins next road game, the beginning of conference play. With all the penny-pinching this newspaper does, it’s totally out of character but I guess shows that local interest is growing about this team. I’m not thrilled to be away for Christmas and even less so to be going to Green Bay in the freakin’ middle of winter, but there’s no way I can say no. So I guess it’s time to pack my bags and go on the first plane ride of my life. Flying, particularly in what could be freezing, storming weather, is making my stomach ache already . Think I will have to have a couple drinks before the flight to fortify my spirits with spirits.

Today, I found out that reserve SG Jermaine Harrington has been ruled academically ineligible for the rest of the season (and the rest of his career since he’s a senior). From what I’ve been able to ascertain from 3rd assistant Miguel Ward, Harrington has been tutored since September and still finished the fall term with a 1.9 GPA. Harrington has been playing over 15 mpg and has averaged 4.4 ppg. He’s been an important cog to provide depth at the guard positions. His loss means the Penguins will have to play Surpin, Jones and Lostetter more. Lonnie Holt, a sophomore is a possibility to get more time coming off the bench. But Holt thus far has only played in 3 games and less than 3 mpg in each of those games, so he may not yet be ready for prime time. Another option may be to have either of their SF’s (Delzell and Martin) put in a little time at the 2 position.

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Man, airports are scary places. Others told me to get to the airport a couple hours before my flight. I was sure they were pulling my leg, but did it anyway. Lucky I did. I had no idea where I was going once I got into the terminal. I finally got pointed in the right direction and made my way to the end of a freakin’ long line. The TSA guys and the people in line behind me got pretty upset since I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Had I known I was going to have to nearly strip down, I wouldn’t have worn lace-up boots and too many layers of clothes. After taking off my belt I had to hold my pants up with one hand to keep them from slipping down to my knees. That made it difficult to take everything out of my pockets while filling bins and shambling slowly along and I dropped stuff all over the floor. Then they made me pull my computer out of my bag so a couple other things fell onto the computer belt. My bag got looked at forever while it went through the x-ray machine. I didn’t know I couldn’t bring a lousy bottle of water onto the plane. They pulled it out of my bag and tossed it away while looking at me like I was Osama bin Bomber and re-scanned my bag. Then I stumbled through the machine taking a picture of my body as I felt my pants beginning to slip down with my hands raised the way they forced me to do. Next I had to put all my belongings back together and re-dress. By then I was a sweaty mess. I made my way to a bar and got a drink while my concerns about the forthcoming flight overwhelmed my brain and body. By the time I made my way down to the gate everyone else was onboard my flight. The airline employees seemed upset that I hadn’t gotten down to the gate earlier, but I just tried to avoid their glaring countenances. On the plane the overhead storage was completely full and it took me several minutes to try to stuff my bag under the seat in front of me, leaving absolutely no room for my feet. All the while, my seat mates were mumbling, particularly the one who was in the aisle seat and had to stand in the aisle while I wrestled with my bag. When I finally sat down in the middle seat with no room for my feet, I found I had no place for my body and shoulders either since they were crushed between two other big people. All the effort had only made me sweat more. I felt like a drenched dog and sat pondering what I was sure would be a terror-filled flight.

The plane seemed to taxi all over the entire airport as my dread increased. Then the engines roared and the plane bounced clumsily along the runway straining to get off the ground. My stomach sank as the plane finally lifted off. My mind said I was a fool not to have forgone the trip and to just have written a game summary story as if I had travelled to Green Bay. As the plane did a series of violent ups and downs in the inclement weather, I could only sit in silent panic. I ordered another drink and gulped it down. The drink worked wonders and I fell asleep, only to be awoken by a thunderous crash and slamming bump. In my awakening confusion, I was sure we were dying. I’m glad I didn’t scream like a little girl, since it turns out that the plane was merely reattaching itself to the runway at the end of my first plane ride. Wishing I could sprint off the plane and find the nearest restroom, I could only sit immobile in my seat as the aisle filled with other passengers awaiting the opening of the door. The line inched slowly forward before I could finally extricate myself shakily walk off the plane. Oh, and by the way, airports really should have restrooms right next to the gate.

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Green Bay Too Cold For Penguins
By Steve Porter

With the thermometer reading -2 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind blowing 20 mph from the north across Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Youngstown State Penguins took on the Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix. Before the game, Penguins Coach K. D. Durst said, “While the Phoenix have an identical 6-4 record to ours, they’ve played a much tougher schedule. Three of their losses were to Top 25 teams. And they have a very talented SG in Ross Lang. He’s averaging over 16 ppg and has scored over 20 points in 4 of their 10 games. So we need to figure out a way to keep him from breaking loose. Our being short-handed at the guard position is going to make that challenge even more difficult.”

Resch Center was nearly filled to capacity, possibly because it was much warmer inside that outside. And the partisan fans were vocal and enthusiastic.

The Penguins came out strong, knocking down their shots, and held the lead for the first 6-1/2 minutes of the game. At that point Wisconsin-Green Bay went on an 8 point run to take command. But even though the Phoenix were hitting well from all over the court and controlling the boards, the Penguins gamely held on to keep the game close. At the half the score was 44-38 in favor of Wisconsin-Green Bay. PF Rick Braswell came off the bench to score 11 points for Youngstown State, but PG Ross Lang had 12 points and C Nate Holloway had 11 points for the Phoenix.

In the 2nd half, Youngstown State couldn’t keep up with the hot-shooting Phoenix who hit 57% of their FG attempts. They fell behind by as much as 18 points. The game ended with the Penguins on the short end of an 83-74 score. 

PF Rich Braswell scored 15 while grabbing 8 rebounds. PG Ryan Surpin and SG Josh Jones both scored 13. For Wisconsin-Green Bay, SG Ross Lang and C Nate Holloway each scored 18. Holloway also had 9 rebounds while Lang had 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 4 blocks.

Coach Durst said, “Our guys came out playing well and taking it to them, but it took a lot out of us and the Phoenix just wore us down as the game proceeded. Having both of our centers get in foul trouble early also made things tough for us. We double-teamed Ross Lang and he still hit 8 of 13 shots plus played exceptionally strong defensively. He was awesome.”

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Puzey Propels Penguins
By Steve Porter

For their game against the Wright State Raiders one of the keys for Youngstown State was to stop their high scoring SG John Blanchard (18.8 ppg). They did it by working the ball to the man he was guarding and driving on him. Blanchard picked up his 2nd personal at the 13:47 mark and went to the bench. The Penguins held onto a small lead from the point until the end of the half when they were ahead by a 36-30 score. C Steven Puzey and SF Chad Delzell both scored 8 points in the half. 

The Penguins held onto a small lead throughout the 2nd half and then pulled away late in the game to pick up a 70-57 win.

Topping the Penguins were C Steve Puzey with 18 points and 7 rebounds, SF Chad Delzell with 13 points and 6 boards, and SG Josh Jones with 10 points and 5 rebounds. For Wright State, John Blanchard scored 14 but only hit 5 of 14 FG attempts and was 2 of 7 from beyond the arc.

The win gives Youngstown State a 7-5 season record and it evened their Horizon League record at 1-1.

Asked about his productivity, Steven Puzey replied, “The guys were working the ball into me well. It feels good to put points on the board, but tonight was a good team effort. We were intent on controlling John Blanchard and we did it. Even though he got into foul trouble early, he came back into the game and still played 30 minutes, but we held him to 14 points and our defense limited him to hitting just 5 of 14 shots.”

As 2016 comes to an end, the Penguins have four players averaging in double figures: Ryan Surpin-11.6 ppg, Steven Puzey-10.8 ppg, Josh Jones-10.5 ppg, and Jamal Grady-10.3 ppg. Steven Puzey is their top rebounder with 6.2 rpg followed by Chad Delzell with 5.3 rpg and Jamal Grady with 4.6 rpg. Ryan Surpin is averaging 4.5 assists per game.

The Top 10 teams nationally in the polls are: Indiana, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Florida, Louisville, Kansas, Oklahoma, Butler, Notre Dame, and Wake Forest.

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Mom was unhappy I wasn’t around for family Christmas. So I had to be sure to spend New Years with the family. Mom, Dad, sister Rose and brother John plus Rose’s and John’s families. Yeah, Rose and John…further examples of the Youngstown one-syllable naming regimen.

These family get-togethers always result in my mom opining in one way or another that I should be thinking about getting married. I just ignore her. Rose married when she was 19 and John when he was 21. At 26, my mother thinks I’m way too old to still be single…and not producing grandchildren for her. Rose has gifted her with 3 and John with 2. Both Rose and John (well mostly John’s wife) have forgone the one-syllable name tradition, opting instead for whatever name is the most popular the year each kid is born.

Rose’s husband has a good job so they’re doing pretty well financially. On the other hand, John has taken after my father, getting one low paying job, losing it, and going on to the next. So he and his family are barely scraping by. But dad, who always did physical jobs, thinks John is doing great whether it’s part-time construction work, warehousing, or whatever other job he can come up with. Dad doesn’t think much of my non-physical work. I think he feels it really isn’t a “job”…how can writing be a job?

Rose takes me aside. She wants to go with her husband on a second honeymoon to the Caribbean. Can I babysit her 3 kids and 2 dogs and their cat..and, oh yeah, their pet gerbil...for a week?

While we’re watching the Sugar Bowl game, John asks for the 20th time in the past 2 months why I can’t get him some free season tickets for Youngstown State basketball.

When you going to get married? When do we get our grandkids? When are you going to get a real job? Can you take care of our kids and pets? When you going to get me some free season tickets?

What more could a guy want from New Year’s Day, 2017? I let my mind wander to the Penguins next opponent: Valparaiso.

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Penguins Can’t Find Hoop
By Steve Porter

Youngstown State’s first half of play against the Valparaiso Crusaders was U-G-L-Y. The Penguins his just 24% of their shots and turned the ball over 10 times. But Valparaiso wasn’t much better, hitting just 28% of their shots. The Penguins controlled the boards though, pulling down 30 rebounds compared to the Crusaders’ 17 boards. The score the break was Valparaiso-29, Youngstown State-27. PG Ryan Surpin scored 8 points plus grabbed 6 rebounds and dished out 3 assists in the half.

Horrendous shooting continued to plague both teams early in the 2nd half. But midway through the half, Valparaiso began hitting their shots and sprinted out to a 57-40 lead with 7:15 remaining. With the Penguins unable to shake their woeful shooting, the game was basically over at that point. The Crusaders went on to apply a 71-50 shellacking to Youngstown State.

The Penguins finished the game hitting just 22% of their shots and making 21 turnovers, although they did maintain a 48-40 rebounding advantage. Valparaiso improved their record to 8-4 overall, while their Horizon League record is now 2-1 which puts them in a 5-way tie for the league lead. Youngstown State is now 1-2 in the Horizon League which places them in a 5-way tie for 6th place. Their overall record is now 7-6.

Ryan Surpin hit for 11 points plus had 5 assists, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals. SF Chad Delzell scored 9 and grabbed 9 boards.

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Penguins Ice Vikings 
By Steve Porter

After playing well throughout most of the first half and holding as much as an 11 point lead, Youngstown State’s offense died and Cleveland State’s offense caught fire in the waning moments of the half. The result was that the Penguins trailed at the break 38-37. The Penguins’ two PG’s, Ryan Surpin and Tim Lostetter, both scored 7 points, but the Vikings’ high scoring SG Lloyd Sanders led all scorers with 12 points.

Cleveland State maintained a small lead in the 2nd half, but with 8 minutes to go and the game tied at 63-63, the Penguins went on an 8-0 run and then steadily increased their lead to win going away 82-67.

PG Ryan Surpin led the scoring for Youngstown State with 21 points. C Steven Puzey scored 15 while hauling down 8 rebounds. C Jamal Grady had 14 points and PG Tim Lostetter scored 12.

Coach K. D. Durst praised his team’s overall play and said, “Two things that stood out tonight were that we hit 9 of 18 three’s and also that we turned the ball over just 8 times. We’ve been working on those two aspects of our game, so it was nice to see our guys put what we’ve been practicing into action tonight. We had a tough time gaining control of this game for 32 minutes, but I was impressed how we took control and maintained it throughout the final 8 minutes.”

Youngstown State now is 8-6 this season and 2-2 in the Horizon League, good for a 10-way tie for 2nd place.

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Penguins and Panthers Battle To Very End
By Steven Porter

Using a stout defense, the Youngstown State Penguins built a 25-13 lead over the Milwaukee Panthers. At that point the Penguins offense went stone cold. The Panthers got back into the game and by the end of the half had cut Youngstown State’s lead to 27-25. The Penguins held Milwaukee’s shooting to 24% in the half. C Jamal Grady led the Penguins offensively with 8 points.

The Penguins maintained control throughout most of the 2nd half, but could never pull away to a safe lead. With 51 seconds remaining, Milwaukee scored inside to take a 62-61 lead. The Penguins missed a shot with 34 seconds remaining, but Milwaukee turned the ball over with 24 seconds to play. The Penguins moved the ball around and freed Jamal Grady for a 15 foot jumper that dropped through the silk with 8 seconds on the clock giving them a 63-62 lead. Milwaukee broke through the Penguins tight full-court press to put up a desperation 3 with the klaxon ringing as the ball clanged off the front of the rim. 

Youngtown State’s thrilling road victory gives them a 9-6 record. Their 3-2 record in the Horizon League put them in a 5-way tie for the conference lead.

C Jamal Grady led the Penguins with 16 points and 8 rebounds. SG Josh Jones and C Steven Puzey both scored 12. 

Coach K. D. Durst said after the game, “Milwaukee’s a good team and to come away with a win on their home court shows how tough our team fights. Our guys put together a strong defensive performance holding the Panthers shooting to just 35%.” Durst was asked about Steven Puzey and Jamal Grady, who both are averaging in double figures and scored well in tonight’s game. He responded, “We’re so fortunate to have two excellent centers. Both of them put in an all-out effort the entire time they’re on the court, so it’s necessary to spell them to keep fresh legs on the floor. There’s really no let-down when either of them is catching a breather on the bench. As a senior Puzey provides good leadership to the entire team. We knew Grady was good coming in as a freshman, but his development has been exceptional. Together they’re averaging over 21 ppg and nearly 11 rpg.”

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Penguins Post Third Straight Win
By Steve Porter

Last night Youngstown State’s basketball team hosted the Detroit Titans. The Titans won their first two games this season, then suffered a 9-game losing streak, but buoyed themselves by winning 2 of their last 3 games. So the question was, which performance level would they bring when they took on the Penguins?

The question was answered early when the Titans hit 7 of their first 10 shots and jumped out to a 17-11 advantage at the 13:13 mark of the first half. Even though the Penguins shooting went cold for the next 8 minutes, they remained in the game as Detroit turned the ball over (12 turnovers in the half). Then in the final 5 minutes, Youngstown State fought to trim the lead and pulled ahead late in the half to go to the break on top 37-35. SG Josh Jones led the Penguins attack with 10 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds. 

The Penguins played solidly throughout the 2nd half and built a 12 point lead with 6 minutes left. They then held the Titans off to record a decisive 79-69 victory. Even though the Penguins only hit 38% of their FG attempts, they out-rebounded the Titans 39-34 and had just 11 turnovers compared to 21 by Detroit.

All five starters for Youngstown State scored in double figures. SG Josh Jones had his best game of the season with 24 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and a block. PG Ryan Surpin scored 15, SF Chad Delzell and C Steven Puzey eachg tossed in 11 points, and PF/C Jamal Grady added 10.

Youngstown State now has a 10-6 season record and they have the 75th best RPI in the nation. They are 4-2 in the Horizon League which puts them in a tie with Oakland atop the league standings. The Penguins host Oakland Monday night in a tussle to break the tie.

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Youngstown State and Oakland Tussle For League Supremacy
By Steve Porter

Oakland’s Golden Grizzlies, while tied for the league lead with Youngstown State with a 4-2 record, entered last night’s game with a less than stellar season record of 6-10. But that was likely deceiving since they only played 1 of 10 pre-conference games at home. Coach Marshod Green commented, “We were on the road so much the first couple months our guys thought Denny’s was home-cooking.”

Oakland’s SG Josh Angner hit for 5 points in the first minute of play. The Penguins shooting was cold but they finally achieved their first tie at 7-7 with 14:17 to play. Youngstown State then ground out a small lead over the next 10 minutes. But the Golden Grizzlies struck back in the final 4 minutes of the half to take a 31-28 lead to the locker room. The Penguins hit just 32% of their shots in the first half. C Steven Puzey was their leading scorer with 7 points.

Hitting 3’s from all over the court, Oakland pulled away for an 11 point lead after just 6 minutes of play in the 2nd half and held a double digit lead for the next 7 minutes. Coach Durst called a timeout and his players came back onto the court with a tenacious defense. The Penguins scored 13 unanswered points to forge a 58-56 lead with just 2:30 remaining. Oakland tied the game, but Ryan Surpin got the ball into Steven Puzey in the lane and Puzey drove to the hoop and converted a contested lay-in to put the Penguins on top 60-58 with 1:49 to play. The Golden Grizzlies were fouled and missed the first shot of a 1-and-1. Youngstown State grabbed the rebound and brought the ball up court quickly. Josh Jones worked the ball inside to Ryan Surpin who hit an 8 footer from the edge of the key. He was fouled on the shot and drained the free throw to give the Penguins a 5 point lead with 1:19 on the clock. Oakland worked the ball around the perimeter but tossed the ball away. They then were forced to foul and Tim Lostetter made them pay by dropping in both shots to put the Penguins on top 65-58 with just 51 seconds remaining. The Golden Grizzlies were unable to pull close. Youngstown State came away with a 69-61 victory that placed them alone atop the Horizon League standings with a 5-2 record. They now have a 4-game win streak. Five Horizon League teams are nipping at their heels with 4-3 records.

The Penguins hit just 37% of their shots but won the game by committing just 12 turnovers compared to Oakland’s 22 and scoring 14 more points at the free throw line.

Leading the way for Youngstown State were PF/C Jamal Grady with 17 points while C Steven Puzey and reserve PG Tim Lostetter both scored 14. Puzey also was larcenous with 5 steals.

Oakland’s Coach Green criticized the officiating after the game, saying “We faced a talented and determined opponent tonight and I congratulate them on their win, but the refs took the game out of our hands by the way they called fouls against us. With the game so close, I couldn’t risk getting tagged with a technical, so I had to reign in my frustration. But I call on the League to review game films to evaluate tonight’s officials and take action as they deem fit after that review.”

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Rumor has it that the Penguins basketball team had a wild party following their win against Oakland. Lots of co-eds and plenty to drink. It seems that word got back to the coaching staff. While their activities possibly were not all that unusual for college students, I’ve heard that Coach Durst called a team meeting. He read the entire team the riot act about maintaining control, not embarrassing the program, university or themselves, and keeping their focus on what’s important…basketball, team, and winning.
 

None of the players or staff has been willing to confirm any of this, though.

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Norse Frozen in Highland Heights

By Steve Porter

 

The Youngstown State basketball team took a bus ride to Highland Heights, Kentucky last night to take on the Northern Kentucky Norse.  Although 7-9 for the season, the Norse had a spotless 6-0 record at home.  BB&T Arena was packed with screaming Norse fans.

 

The Penguins jumped out to a small lead, but the Norse’ hot shooting put them on top midway through the half.  But Youngstown State didn’t back down and pulled into a 29-29 tie with 4 minutes left in the half.  When the buzzer sounded, Northern Kentucky sported a slim 37-35 lead as they outshot the Penguins 50% to 39%.  SG Josh Jones led the scoring for Youngstown State with 9 points.

 

The two teams slugged it out in the 2nd half.  With 12:06 remaining the game was tied 48-48.  Tightening their defense, the Penguins were able to pull ahead 67-57 with 3:30 to go.  The Norse tried to make a game of it, but Youngstown State held on to pull off an 81-70 road win and send the Norse fans dejectedly home.

 

Offensively, the Penguins were led by C Steven Puzey’s 16 points, SG Josh Jones with 15 and PG Ryan Surpin with 12.  But reserve guards Tim Lostetter and Lonnie Holt added 9 and 8 points, respectively.  Coach Durst extolled, “I’m particularly proud of how our team controlled the ball.  We had just 6 turnovers and forced the Norse to make 18 turnovers.”

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Penguins Start Strong, Finish Weak
By Steve Porter

The Penguins came into last night’s game riding a 5-game win streak and an RPI ranking of 50th best in the nation. They hosted the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Flames, so named for the Great Chicago Fire. UIC came into the game with an 8-9 record and was 3-5 in the Horizon League. But their two starting guards, Dan Rucker and Tim Robinson, were averaging 16.8 and 15.2 ppg respectively. Before the game, coach K.D. Durst opined, “Not only are those two guys scoring a lot of points, but they are extremely efficient, both knocking down well above 40% of their shots. We’re going to just have to do the best job we can to try to dampen their success.”

Youngstown State came out with guns blazing and ran away to a 17-7 lead while hitting 7 of 10 from the field with 13-1/2 minutes left in the first half. The Fire came roaring back to tied the game at 23-23 six minutes later. The lead shifted back and forth thereon, but the Penguins went to the locker room down 35-32. PF Kareem Toole led their scoring with 7 points, but they were unable to contain Tim Robinson who led all scorers with 11 points.

Trailing by 9 points with 8 minutes to play, the Penguins scored 7 unanswered points to get back into the game. But then their shooting with ice-cold in the final 5 minutes and they fell hard, 65-53. The loss dropped their record to 12-7 for the season and 6-3 in the Horizon League, but they remained in sole possession of first place, one game ahead of 5 other teams.

The only players for Youngstown State scoring in double figures were C Steven Puzey with 11 and PG Ryan Surpin with 10.

“It was disappointing to lose a game at home that we had a good chance to win. After making the run that got us close in the 2nd half, we just couldn’t buy a bucket. But you can’t hit just 38% of your shots and expect to come away with a victory. We knocked down 9 of our first 12 shots and then hit just 27% of our field goal attempts thereafter,” lamented Coach K.D. Durst.

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Offense Continues to Slumber for Penguins
By Steve Porter

After falling behind 11-2 early in the game to Wisconsin-Green Bay, it took until the 7:07 mark of the first half for Youngstown State to finally forge a 26-26 tie. A 3-pointer by Ryan Surpin put the Penguins into the lead for the first time with 4:30 to go at 29-28. Then their offense fell apart and the Phoenix took a 35-31 halftime lead. C Steven Puzey led the scoring for the Penguins with 11 points.

The second half was an unmitigated disaster for the Penguins. Even though the Penguins held the Phoenix’ high-scoring SG Ross Lang in check, their offense was lifeless and they continually dropped further and further behind to sustain an embarrassing 76-52 loss at home. They now are 6-4 in the Horizon League and fell into a 5-way tie for the league lead.

The bad news: 34% shooting (13% from 3-point distance) vs 48% by the Phoenix (37% from beyond the arc); -6 in rebounds, 19 turnovers. The only Penguin to do much offensively was C Steven Puzey with 16 points. 

Raymond Harrington, Youngstown State’s 1st Asssistant Coach, said, “These past two game have shown we need to go back to basics in practice and re-build our confidence. We’re a better team than we’ve shown in these two games.”

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Bad news for the Penguins. PG Ryan Surpin strained his calf and is likely to miss one and possibly two games. With Jermaine Harrington on academic probation, the Penguins already didn’t have much of a bench for guards. Their remaining healthy guards will be sorely tested.

In an unrelated development, it turns out my last game summary got under the skin of Coach Durst. He felt it was too negative and passed along his displeasure to my editor. Luckily, Tracy Tason, my editor, told me to just forget it and to keep reporting the story about the team accurately and in a forthright manner. He said Durst needs to learn to take some criticism when it’s deserved.

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Penguins Defenseless 
By Steve Porter

The first half in Youngstown State’s game last night with the Wright State Raiders was a shootout. Both teams. The Raiders hit 60% of their shots and the Penguins his 64% of their field goals attempts. Both teams hit over 50% of their 3’s as well. Wright State maintained a small lead throughout most of the half. At the break the score was 52-46 in favor of the Raiders. Chad Delzell started at his normal SF position but also played extensively at SG and scored 15, while Josh Jones who started at SG and filled in at PG, hit for 12. 

The Penguins fought hard in the 2nd half but weren’t able to shut down the potent Wright State offense and ended up on the short end of a 95-78 score. With PG Ryan Surpin sitting out the game due to an injury, the Penguins piled up 20 turnovers.

Josh Jones dropped in 22 points while Chad Delzell hit for 15 and Tim Lostetter popped in 12.

3rd straight loss by the Penguins dropped their season record to 12-9. In the Horizon League they are now 6-5, placing them in a 5-way tie for 2nd place in what’s turning into a muddled race for league supremacy.

Reserve C Kevin Anderson strained his hamstring and will be sidelined for 10-12 days meaning he likely will miss the next 3 games. Meanwhile reports indicate PG Ryan Surpin strained calf will cause him to miss yet another game.

Coach Durst commented after the game, “We ran into a buzzsaw of an offense tonight. The Raiders shredded our defense. I thought our guys valiantly tried to keep up and we got great production from the perimeter. That’s a big positive that came out of the game tonight, particularly with Ryan Surpin unable to play. But Wright State did a terrific job of stopping our big guys. The Raiders cut off our passing lanes. We simply couldn’t get the ball inside enough. We needed that balance to compete successfully. Our other major problem tonight was that we turned the ball over too much. That not only took away opportunities thus stymying our offense, but gave the Raiders points on breakaways as well.” When asked if increased turnovers were due to the absence of Ryan Surpin, Durst replied, “No, because our turnovers were coming from everyone on our team, not only our guards. We simply got sloppy with the ball and that was, unfortunately, a total team effort.”

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Youngstown State Crushes Crusaders
By Steve Porter

With Ryan Surpin and Kevin Anderson not suiting up for last night’s game against Valparaiso, the bench looked a little short. But Coach K.D. Durst used all of his players to keep fresh legs on the floor. The Penguins overwhelmed the Crusaders in the first half, hitting 56% of their shots while holding Valparaiso’s shooting to 37%, holding a 20-12 rebounding advantage, and turning the ball over just 6 times. Youngstown State led at the break 44-30. Tim Lostetter, starting in place of Surpin, paced the Penguins attack with 11 points as well as dishing out 4 assists.

The Penguins continued their dominance in the 2nd half, extending their lead to as much as 21 points before settling for a lopsided 79-63 victory. 

PG Tim Lostetter played the best game of his career with 19 points and 8 assists. The Penguins’ two primary big men, Steven Puzey and Jamal Grady, came back from weak performances in the Penguins’ prior game this week, to score 12 and 11 points respectively and also combined to haul down 14 rebounds. For Valparaiso, C Ian Boyce had a double-double (11 points and 10 rebounds).

With the win Youngstown State rose back into a 4-way tie for the Horizon League lead with a 7-5 record.

PG Tim Lostetter was named the Horizon League’s Freshman Player of the Week. He scored 31 points and dished out 13 assists in the Penguins’ two games this past week.

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Youngstown State has one scholarship that still will be available after this season. The Penguins have been continuing to actively recruit throughout this winter hoping to land the best available recruit this spring. I learned that Steve Simmons, Coach Durst’s recruiting assistant, has developed a good relationship with an unnamed very high profile high school recruit. Apparently this recruit fell of the radar of the big name Division I programs due to poor grades. When Coach Durst determined this, he directed Simmons to contact the recruit. Then when his SAT scores were announced and they were above Youngstown State’s miimum level, the recruiting became more focused. The recruit is now showing interest in the Penguins. My source was careful not to divulge his name, not wanting to alert other programs to the inroads Simmons has made and asked me not to report what I was told. I also learned that the Penguins have a talented JC player they are recruiting in the event that the high schooler doesn’t commit to Youngstown State.

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