YOUNGSTOWN — Sometimes a spark off the bench is what a team needs in a battle. Squaring off against a Utah Tech that has a track record of scoring in bunches, Youngstown State fought off the Trailblazers by a final of 75-68.
DJ Burns recorded his third double-double out of four contests with 16 points and 11 rebounds, but the storyline was senior Jaylen Bates, who came in clutch during the second half, tallying 12 points, including a pair of key three pointers.
“We went to a first and second unit this week. I switched things up; I was coaching too many guys, not getting any results, so I said I’m going to take one of the teams and really lock in on those guys,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “(Bates) was in here the last 48 hours working as hard as the coaches. He watched 45 minutes each day the last two days, got extra shots and that’s why you get into college coaching, to see young guys mature and grow.
“He was rewarded for his work. I’ll go home tonight and sleep really good because of Jaylen Bates and stories like that, but we have to be connected throughout an entire game, and that’s what this team is trying to figure out. If we can keep that connection within our team and our bench then we have a chance to be pretty good, so it’s a good step.”
The Penguins (2-2) never trailed during the course of the contest, but made a marked improvement on shooting during the second half, finding the net at a 54.2% clip compared to just over 30% in the first half. They also had the tall task of limiting a Trailblazers (1-2) squad that came into Friday evening averaging 75 points.
Up 34-26 at the break, YSU led by as much as 10 points early in the second half following a clean floating jumper by Burns after beating some traffic, but a second-chance layup off the fingers of Hamed Olayinka cut the lead down to one at 49-48 midway through the period.
What ensued was a 7-0 Penguins run, started with an emphatic dunk from Brandon Rush, followed by an alley-oop connection by EJ Farmer to Gabe Dynes, then a made three-pointer from the right side by Bates.
The tides began to quickly turn back into the host team’s favor.
“Honestly, I felt confident from the beginning of the game. Coach always told me to be ready when my number is called, that’s just how we go about business here, next-man-up mentality,” Bates said. “Somebody doesn’t have it going one night, you just have to do everything in your power to just pick them up and remain a team player and if you hit one, you hit another one.”
Gonsalves led scoring for Utah Tech with 17 points, and Tanner Christensen added 16.
For the host Penguins, Bryson Langdon (12) and Rush (11) hit double figures in scoring along with Burns and Bates.
“It’s our second game at home, and it’s about confidence. It’s something when you’re playing at home, the crowd, from playing on your court to just being comfortable, and then coach drawing up our offense and our players actually running it through and us trusting in one another,” Burns said. “When you have all of those things, that’s chemistry for a win. There’s always room to get better, but the guys are ready to play today man.”
“I believe there should be even more guys (in double-figures) . We have so many guys that can do so many things, but any night is for anybody. Kudos to Jaylen who stepped up and had a great game, he was ready, so for the next guy the next game, you never know.”
Calhoun added, “We should have had about seven guys in double-figures to be honest. We missed a lot of open shots early in this game, step in threes, we settled in too much in transition for threes where we should have ran for layups, but I think you can see the potential for our team, a high-octane team.”
Youngstown State concludes its three-game homestand with a contest against Lake Erie College (Div. II) on Sunday after with a tip-off time of 3 p.m.