After suffering a heartbreaking three point loss at the buzzer to Robert Morris on December 22, the Penguins finished 2011 with a bang.
No, I am not talking about the 4.0 earthquake with an epicenter just north of Youngstown that could be felt at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland. I am talking about Youngstown State's 73-67 upset over Horizon League front-runner Cleveland State on Saturday afternoon.
A balanced offensive attack guided the Penguins to the upset in Cleveland. Youngstown State shot an outstanding 58.1 percent from the floor, hit 8 of 16 from three point range and outscored the much bigger Cleveland State squad 24-20 in the paint.
In a previous article, I cited the need for Youngstown State to drive the ball and get much easier field goal opportunities. It appears they responded. If they continue with that approach, the Penguins will continue to compete in the upper echelon of the Horizon League this season.
Next up for the Penguins are two winnable home games against two programs that have struggled just as much as, if not worse than, Youngstown State in recent seasons, Loyola (IL) and the University of Illinois-Chicago.
In his first season at the helm of Loyola, Peter Moser's squad has lost two in a row after a four game winning streak in the middle of December. The Ramblers' issue this season has been on the offensive end, where they are averaging a Horizon League worst 55.9 points per game.
Conversely, Youngstown State is third in the conference at 67.3 points per game. This is a game I look for the Penguins to win, and win big. Last season the Ramblers came to Youngstown on New Year's Day and embarrassed the Penguins 83-53.
This time around, look for Youngstown State to avenge that loss, be the aggressor and make this a high tempo game, which is a tempo the Ramblers simply cannot handle.
Head Coach Howard Moore has his Flames moving in the right direction in his second season at Illinois-Chicago. Unlike crosstown rival Loyola, the Flames are a much better offensive team.
Led by Daniel Barnes, Gary Talton, and Darrin Williams, this athletic UIC squad will look to push the ball against the Penguins in what could be a high-scoring affair. The Flames and Penguins have played in some tight contests in recent years and this battle should be no different. The first team to get to 73 will likely win this game.
Tip-off is set for 7:05 PM on Thursday evening for Loyola, and Saturday evening against the Flames. It would be great for the entire community to come out and support this vastly improved team.
If they take care of business at home, they will sit atop the Horizon League standings through the second week of January, which is the first time that has ever happened in Youngstown State history this late in the season.