Youngstown State University seems to be getting a grip on this whole basketball thing lately. The Penguins played a fantastic defensive game against league-leading Valparaiso and came away with an 80-68 win. Kendrick Perry spearheaded the charge with 28 points but had plenty of help on both sides of the court.
To say the Penguins were able to play physical in the post would be an understatement in the win. Damian Eargle, Bobby Hain, Cameron Belin, and the rest of the Penguins did a fantastic job of taking Kevin Van Wijk and Ryan Broekhoff out of their usual dominant rhythm that has driven the Crusaders all season.
“It really was a great effort defensively”, said Slocum. “Our guys really gutted it out and played well. It was just a great team effort, probably as good as we have had all year.
In the first half, YSU really did a nice job of guarding the perimeter and the paint. When Valpo would try to kick the ball out, a Penguin would be waiting. When Valpo tried to feed the low post, they were met with heavy resistance – each trip down the floor. Nothing came easy for the Crusaders. YSU got six points out of Kendrick Perry and six more from Belin (below) in the half.
The Penguns took a 39-28 lead into the half. Valpo never had a lead in the entire game as YSU started on a 12-4 run. From that point on, Jerry Slocum seemed to hit all of the right buttons and was able to maintain that large of a lead throughout the opening half.
In the second half, more of the same from YSU. The Penguins had a 44-33 lead with 16:46 left to play and had maybe their two shakiest possessions of the game to that point, but Valparaiso was unable to gain any significant ground. With 11:21 left in the game, Shawn Amiker took a nice feed and connected on a bunny while drawing a foul. Amiker hit the free throw to increase the lead to 54-41.
Slocum knew the sun was shining on his team as Ryan Weber, who entered the game 1-16 from three-point range, buried a big three to increase the Penguin lead to 14.
Valpo would not go away quietly. With a shade over five minutes left in the game, the YSU lead was whittled to ten points at 65-55. Blake Allen nabbed a huge offensive rebound in which the Penguins got a fresh clock and capped off with a Belin three to push the lead back to 13.
Perry remained the heart of the YSU offense. The junior tallied 28 points and snared 11 rebounds. Belin added 15 points, and Eargle played another well-rounded game on both ends, with for the upstart Penguins (13-8, 5-3). YSU started conference play 1-3, but have since rattled off four straight to get back into the big picture.
“We were feeding off of the energy of this crowd tonight”, said Perry. “The fans were booing the refs when they made bad calls, they were cheering us when we made our shots, they were really loud tonight.”
Van Wijk ended the game with 14 points for the Crusaders who dropped to 6-2 in the conference and 16-6 overall. Broekhoff added 10, but those totals are well below the numbers those two have been putting up this season.
“KP was very special tonight”, said Slocum at the post-game press conference.
YSU will now head to Detroit for a Friday rematch with the Titans who destroyed YSU by 41 the last time they met on January 10.
When asked if his Penguins would head to Michigan with a chip on their shoulders, Slocum responded, “We are a much different basketball team now. We are really looking forward to the challenge of going there to play, hopefully we have enough in the tank physically to play our best.”
“We will definitely have a chip on our shoulders”, said Perry.