Panthers look to finish above .500

Playing good defense and winning games typically go hand in hand. Defense was a leading cause to a lot of the Panthers problems earlier in the season and it has likewise been a significant strength in contributing towards their results coming down the stretch. In a set of games covering December and a portion of January, the Panthers allowed 79 points or more on seven different occasions. The Panthers played some very powerful offenses during this time period and not surprisingly the Panthers lost all of those games.
When looking specifically at conference opponents this season the Panthers defensive turnaround is even more attention grabbing. The best example of the Panthers defensive turnaround is shown in the two games against Cleveland State. In early January when the Panthers played the Vikings they allowed them to put up 84 points and shoot 57.6% from the field. In the rematch last week at Panther Arena the Vikings in contrast were held to 60 points and shot 36.7%.
While not as drastic, comparisons of similar nature can be made throughout the Panther’s conference schedule. The Panthers have won their last 12 games when they have held the opponents to 60 points or less. Thus far in February, the Panthers have only allowed 70 points on one occasion despite seeing some of the best offenses in the conference including Oakland and Cleveland State. During the Panthers current three game win streak they have allowed 59.3 points per game and have only allowed opponents to shoot 38.8% (66 for 170) from the field. The Panthers will look to showcase their improved defense one final time in the season finale on Saturday night against Youngstown State.
The Penguins will provide the Panthers defense with a test as they are currently the second best offense in the conference averaging 71.5 points per game. They have three of top 16 individual scorers in the conference. Sophomore guard Marcus ranks sixth in the conference scoring 15.5 points per game. In addition junior forward Bobby Hain ranks eighth in the conference in scoring with 14.5 points per game. Hain is also the teams leading rebounder with 7.4 rebounds per game.
Shawn Amiker ranks 16th in the conference in scoring with 11.2 points per game. However they are last in the conference in scoring defense allowing 74.5 points per game. Allowing those kinds of point totals have been a large reason that Youngstown State has lost six of their last seven games overall and only have one home conference win this season, over the UIC Flames. The Panthers defeated the Penguins 77-62 in the first match-up of the season at Panther Arena behind four players scoring in double figures for the Panthers.
This game offers the Panthers an opportunity to finish the season strong. If the Panthers are able to win it will give them their third consecutive road victory to finish the season. Also it will ensure that the Panthers have an over .500 record in conference games this season and also will give them a better overall conference record by two full games to last season’s conference tournament championship team. The Penguins have a talented offense but if the Panthers are able to replicate the defensive effort they have showed in recent games they should be able to achieve a satisfying conclusion to the season.

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