The No. 25 West Virginia Mountaineers visit the Youngstown State Penguins on Saturday in what can reasonably be called the biggest home game for Youngstown State basketball this decade.
The rarity of a Power Five conference program visiting a Horizon League campus will only add to the intensity. Youngstown State hasn’t hosted a Power Five opponent at any previous point in the decade.
The Penguins are 6-0 at home this season, and now they get a chance to register the biggest homecourt win in recent program history.
It will be tough for Youngstown State (7-5) to knock off the nationally ranked Mountaineers (9-1), who seem to be witnessing the emergence of Derek Culver. In West Virginia’s most recent game, an 83-57 win over Nicholls State on Saturday, the sophomore forward busted loose for 16 points and 16 rebounds.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins can see evidence of Culver’s evolution as a player.
“When Derek gets tired of getting fouled, he just separates people,” Huggins said. “If you all knew how far he’s come, he’s come a long, long way. He continues to get better. We just gotta get him to slow down a little bit. He catches it at the foul line and makes that jump shot, it makes him even harder to guard.”
Culver sounds as if he understands what Huggins wants from him.
“With that patience came the opportunity to score,” Culver said. “The defense plays hardest when you first get the ball, but if you take your time the defense starts to open up.”
Youngstown State coach Jerrod Calhoun is counting on his Penguins to continue to play tough defense, which would help make life difficult for Culver. Youngstown State limited Binghamton to 37 percent from the field and 18 percent from 3-point range in a 73-55 victory Wednesday night.
“What’s nice with our guys is they’re not letting the inability to make shots right now affect their defense,” Calhoun said. “That’s the key word: right now. You can’t get down on yourself, you got to continue to work, continue to shoot the ball. … You got to stay the course.”
Calhoun has been dealing with the challenge of players practicing without attending classes in the days before Christmas.
“The last couple days, we haven’t had practice until early afternoon,” Calhoun said. “Their routine is broken a little bit right now, and I think it’s off a little bit. The energy levels are low. There’s no class. We got to refocus and we got to understand that we’re playing a team on Saturday at 1 o’clock. They’re not going to take any possessions off. They are going to compete on every possession and make it really difficult.”
Oscar Tshiebwe leads West Virginia in scoring with 12.3 points per game. Culver leads the Mountaineers in rebounding with 9.6 boards per contest.
Darius Quisenberry leads Youngstown State in scoring with 14.6 points per game. Naz Bohannon is the leading rebounder for the Penguins with 8.3 per game.
–Field Level Media