On Senior Night for the YSU Men’s Basketball team, Damian Eargle and Blake Allen took the floor of the Beeghly Center one last time. The good news was that YSU was 4-0 at home when playing an ESPN Bracketbuster game. The bad news was that they were 0-5 on the road, so the bad news doesn’t count. The trend held true as the Penguins coasted to a 86-75 conquest of Central Michigan.
In the first half, Eargle showed no sign of struggling with the mask on. In fact, he seemed to thrive with it on. The senior blocked-shot machine collected six quick points in the first six minutes of the game. He also had a thunderous dunk that the hoop spit back out, but YSU held a thick 20-9 lead with 11:36 left in the first half.
The other inevitable downer of the evening was the Penguins playing without their leading scorer, Kendrick Perry, who suffered a knee injury during a practice that is expected to keep him sidelined until the Horizon League Tournament gets underway.
“KP will be reevaluated biweekly”, said Coach Jerry Slocum after the game. “He hurt the knee in practice on Wednesday and I know it isn’t ligaments or an ACL, but beyond that, he will be reevaluated.”
The Penguins had little problems generating offense against Central Michigan and coasted to a 45-27 halftime lead. The other senior, Blake Allen, picked it up over the last five minutes of the half and poured in eleven first half points for the home team. Central Michigan got eight points from Kyle Randall, a native of Youngstown.
The second half started much like the first half ended. Allen drilled a three on YSU’s first possession and the Penguins were off and running. The Chippewas cut the lead from 21 to 12 points and trailed 51-39 with 16:18 left to play.
Central Michigan chipped further into the lead before Allen drilled two more three pointers to increase the Penguin lead back to 13 with 13:02 left to play.
YSU held a 12-point lead with just over eight minutes to play, but Randall dribbled through the Penguins as if they were stationary orange cones on his way to a layup that made the score 66-56.
The Penguins seemed to be softer on defense with the large lead and Central Michigan cut the lead to just seven with 5:13 left. Kamren Belin and Fletcher Larson hit a couple of big shots for YSU down the stretch to keep the lead bouncing in and out of double digits.
YSU got a strong final home game from Allen. The Floridian finished with 20 points. The other senior, Eargle, had a limited amount of minutes more attributed to fouls than coming back from n injury, but still scored 10 points, 3 rebounds and one blocked shot. Eargle, who looked more like a masked WWE Superstar than a low post wizard, even hit a pair of free throws down the stretch.
“It meant a lot to me to play my last game here at home”, said Eargle. “It was nice to know that the fans appreciate me as much as I appreciated them here through the years.”
Belin had a 20-point night, and a pretty thunderous dunk in the last couple of minutes. D. J. Cole added eleven caroms for the Penguins.
Central Michigan dropped to 9-17 with the loss. The Chippewas got 16 points from John Simons in the loss. The Youngstown native, Randall, finished with 17 points.
The Penguins (16-12, 8-6) play their last two regular season games on the road at Valparaiso and Wright State. Barring a disaster in which everything must go wrong for YSU, and everything els must go right for everyone else, the Penguins will be hosting a first-round Horizon League Playoff game.
The win gives the Penguins ten victories at home for the second consecutive year. Prior to last season, no YSU team had ten home wins since the 2006-07 season.
“I wish it was 12 wins instead of 10”, remarked Slocum. “You have to take care of home when you play 16 or 17 games on the road. The fact that we did that made me very proud of this group.”
“I was very happy for the seniors”, said Slocum. “We have been through a lot in the past couple of weeks with injuries to Damian and now KP. This team has fought and battled and I can’t stress how proud I am of their effort. There were some late nights trying to figure out how to deal with these injuries for the staff, we feel good about this win.”