YOUNGSTOWN - D.J. Cole was at one point this season the Horizon League leader in assists to turnover ratio.
That kind of presence on the floor kickstarted the Youngstown State men's basketball team, especially the defense.
It's something the Penguins (6-3) have been missing the last game and a half Cole has not been on the floor.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound guard left last Wednesday's Kent State game with an ankle injury following an ally-oop pass to teammate Kendrick Perry.
"Did not practice Monday," said YSU coach Jerry Slocum, whose team hosts Robert Morris tonight. Tipoff is around 7:45 p.m. "We missed him not having him the last 10 minutes of the Kent State game and obviously didn't have him the other night. He keys us defensively. It felt like we played pretty good last week, but we did not get the stops that we needed to get. We didn't make the plays at the defensive end."
Slocum hasn't given a timetable on Cole's return.
"To me, it's a day-to-day thing," he said. "I'm out of the loop of that a little bit. I let my athletic training staff tell me when he can go, when he can't go. We're progressing ahead. Like I said, he did not practice (Monday)."
Freshman Marcus Keene (5-11, 160) has been filling in for Cole.
Senior forward Kamren Belin said it was hard to get into the ebb-and-flow of the game right after Cole left with the injury.
"It's been tough," Belin said. "The thing that really throws us off is the timing around our point guard. Marcus is getting used to us. We're getting used to him. As the game goes on and the speed picks up and we progress throughout the game, everything worked out fine."
Slocum said the thing with Keene is not his offensive production, which has been solid, but on the other side of the ball something in which Cole excelled.
"Marcus is a freshman. He's going to be getting better," Slocum said. "Marcus is a really talented offensive player and he's got a long way to go defensively. That's exactly where I assess him at. He's getting better every day, but his basketball IQ at the defensive end needs to be better. Might be one of gifted guards I've had on the offensive end.
"We're encourage of his development."
Defense is going to be the key to beating Robert Morris, Slocum said.
"You're going to need that effort against a team we're historically struggled with," he said. "They have a good basketball tradition. We have our hands full."
"This a veteran, scrappy, back-to-the-wall kind of game. I anticipate a tremendous effort from them," Slocum said. "This is a good basketball team. We've been there where we've opened with five or six or so on the road like that. They've played all good people."
Lucky Jones, a 6-6, 210 guard/forward, comes in with 12.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per outing.
"This team has two superstars in terms of who can score the ball," Slocum said. "I'm sure they're coming in desperate. We'll get their best effort."