Youngstown State's Mettle Will Be Tested as 2011 Comes to an End

Michael MetzingerContributor IDecember 20, 2011

YSU Junior Damian Eargle. Photo by William Lewis,
YSU Junior Damian Eargle. Photo by William Lewis,

Just ten days ago Youngstown State (6-5) was off to their best start since the 1997-1998 season. 

Since then, however, things have taken a turn for the worst. In the three-game road trip through the Mid-American Conference, Youngstown State was outscored 254-211 against Buffalo, Toledo and Akron. Poor defense—coupled with uncharacteristic turnovers—cost the Penguins in each contest.

Despite the recent poor play by Youngstown State, Coach Slocum needs to purge the past ten days out of his team's memory as they prepare for two extremely tough games vs. Robert Morris (8-3) on Thursday and on the road at Cleveland State (10-1) on New Year's Eve.

Anyone who has attended a Youngstown State game knows this team shoots the three-point shot so much their fate relies heavily upon it. However, after sitting through that embarrassing 26-point loss to Akron yesterday evening, it became quite apparent to me that this team need not rely on the three ball to have a successful campaign this season.

In the three-game losing streak, Youngstown State was outscored in the paint 110-70, despite outscoring the same three opponents from behind the three-point arc 93-63.

Coach Slocum needs to stress to his squad the importance of aggressively driving the ball down the lane and taking shorter jump shots—rather than settling for a three-pointer every single possession.

I am well aware that Youngstown State is a guard-heavy team this season, but Kendrick Perry, Shawn Amiker, Ashen Ward, Cale Zuiker and DuShawn Brooks have shown that in recent weeks they have the ability to drive down the lane and either get a short layup or get fouled. Coach Slocum needs to urge these players to continue to drive the ball down low to get easier field goal opportunities.

Down low, Fletcher Larson and Josh Chojnacki need to do a better job near the basket when in the game. Damian Eargle is essentially the only true "Big-Man," and when he comes out, the opposition goes right after Larson or Chojnacki on nearly every possession to exploit the mismatch.

Larson and Chojnacki have the size and strength to not get bullied down low, and with continued playing time, their defense should improve.

I believe it is important for Youngstown State to continue shooting the three ball—especially Blake Allen—who has made a three-pointer in 18 consecutive games.

But the stats do not lie: The teams that won the battle down low won the previous three contests.

For Youngstown State to finish in the top half of the Horizon League this season, they need to wean themselves off the three-point addiction and work the ball down low for much easier and higher percentage shots. If they do just that, I think this squad would be surprised how effective they can be inside the arc and how much their offensive output would improve.

This past summer, this group was getting rave reviews at the Pittsburgh Summer Pro-Am for their aggressive, high-tempo play. They will need that high intensity effort against the same players they went head-to-head with this past summer from Robert Morris.

The Colonials destroyed YSU last season by a 90-60 margin. Youngstown State will need to bring their "A" game to knock off this perennial Northeast Conference power that could very well take a trip to the NCAA Tournament this season.

YSU has the talent to knock off the Colonials, but the question is whether or not they believe they can. Earlier this season, this group believed they could knock off just about anybody on their schedule. Now we shall see if they have that same belief after this tough three-game losing streak.

Hopefully the friendly confines of Beeghly Center will be just what the doctor ordered.

Go Penguins!