In what is being billed as the biggest Youngstown State home game since the late 1990s, the first place Cleveland State Vikings will take on a surging YSU squad in a battle for first place in the Horizon League standings this coming Saturday at the Beeghly Center.
Like the Penguins (11-8 | 6-3), Cleveland State (17-4 | 7-2) enters the contest after a sweep of UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay at home this past weekend. The two victories over the squads from Wisconsin gave Cleveland State a share of first place in the Horizon League, while putting Youngstown State into a tie for third place.
Just three short weeks ago, during a 'rocky' New Years Eve across Northeast Ohio, the Penguins stunned the Vikings at the Wolstein Center, winning 73-67. Ashen Ward, a native of Cleveland, OH, helped lead YSU to the 'upset' on the road. A month later, look to Youngstown, OH native and former Ursuline Irish star D'Aundray Brown to lead his Vikings to a crucial road win as we start the second half of Horizon League competition.
For the first time since joining the Horizon League a decade ago, Youngstown State is a legitimate contender to finish in the top-third in the conference this season; and a win on Saturday will go a long way in doing just that.
In my eyes, this game is not only significant for Youngstown State for bragging rights and recruiting purposes, but it would give YSU the tiebreaker over Cleveland State if they so happen to end with the same record at season's end.
Look for Youngstown State to go down low to Damian Eargle, who has scored at least 20 points in his only three meetings with the Vikings. Despite the size of CSU down low, Eargle has had his way in the paint against CSU historically.
In addition, look for YSU to make this an up-tempo battle, which works in the favor of the much more athletic Penguin squad. If YSU can shoot the three-ball as efficiently as they have all season, as well as win the free throw battle and the rebounding battle, I expect them to win this contest by single digits in what should be a terrific game this weekend!
I am calling on the entire Mahoning Valley to take the short trip downtown to Beeghly Center and help pack what is truly an intimate, underrated facility in this conference. Just three short years ago, 6,249 fans filled the Beeghly Center, and made it an extremely hostile environment which the Vikings could simply not overcome in a 64-60 defeat to YSU.
After the game, CSU Coach Gary Waters made the remark that the noise from the fans played a big part in the outcome. With that being said, it's time to make the Beeghly Center hostile again!
This Saturday's game is a double-header, with the much improved Youngstown State women taking on Wright State at 4:35pm. This top quality Division I college basketball is without a doubt worth the price of admission!
I don't care if you have only gone to one game this season, or attended just one game in the past decade, fans should have no excuse whatsoever not to be at this game, as the NFL has a bye week next Saturday. As a dedicated fan that has attended a large portion of the home games in the Jerry Slocum era, I can assure you that you'll enjoy every second of this action.
The entire evening will be Panera Bread Kids Day on the upper concourse, with the Youngstown State bookstore selling memorabilia in the arena as well. As I said earlier, make no excuses and come on out Saturday evening and help be that sixth man as YSU looks to defeat the Vikings and move into a tie for first place! If you do plan on attending, RSVP on Facebook today!