All or nothing
Sixteen road games, 10 conference victories and nine wins at Beeghly Center equal a No. 6 seed in the Horizon League Championship.
The Youngstown State University men’s basketball program begins its run for a conference title, and a shot to participate in the NCAA March Madness, on Tuesday at home.
YSU head coach Jerry Slocum said in a press conference on Monday that the team is excited.
“We’re playing one of the hottest teams in the league; there’s no doubt of that,” Slocum said. “They might be the hottest team in the league, but it’s in our building.”
The Penguins will face the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. They defeated the Phoenix, 77-47, at home on Jan. 22, but lost at Green Bay, 71-65, on Feb. 14.
“We match up really well with them, and it’s just a matter of going out there, playing defense, shooting our principles and executing our offense,” said sophomore guard Kendrick Perry during the conference.
Slocum said the Penguins must know the details.
“When you’re playing a team for the third time, your detail better be pretty good, because you know what you’re going to see, and you better be able to slow those guys down,” he said.
The winner of the game will face either Loyola University Chicago or the University of Detroit Mercy on Friday at Valparaiso University, the No. 1 seeded team, in a second-round clash.
If the Penguins win their first two games and advance to the semifinals, they would face Cleveland State University, the No. 2 seed, at Valpo.
“There is no bad games in tournaments because it is one and done,” said junior forward Damian Eargle during the conference. “If we can give it all for 40 minutes, I don’t think there’s a lot of teams in the Horizon League that could compete with us.”
The Penguins will have to face either the University of Illinois at Chicago or Wright State University in the championship game to return home.
“We can’t take possessions off,” Perry said. “We can’t take minutes off. From here on out, every game starting tomorrow’s got to be everything for 40 minutes.”
The Penguins finished the regular season 15-14 overall, their first winning season since the 2000-2001 campaign under John Robic (19-11). It’s the best record under Slocum since his first season at YSU in 2005. It is also the first time the Penguins finished with a winning record in the HL since joining in 2001.
In addition to preparing for the tournament, the HL awards were announced on Monday. Perry won first-team conference honors, and Eargle was named to the all-defense team.
“It means a lot, especially on the defensive end, because I really worked a lot during the offseason for defense, and it paid off,” Eargle said.
Eargle finished first in the conference with 3.9 blocks and third in rebounding with 7.4 per game.
“That’s a huge accomplishment for him,” Perry said. “He prides himself on defense, he’s a great shot blocker, so I’m happy that he got that.”
Heading into the season, Slocum told Perry it would be a special one.
“I just want to credit all of my teammates, all of my coaches,” Perry said. “Throughout the whole year, they kept me levelheaded. They kept me low when I had success, and they kept me high when I had failure.”
Perry finished first in the HL in scoring, averaging 16.8 points per game. He also finished third in assists per game (3.9) and second in steals per game (2.4).
“I think the other thing that’s happy with a coach is that is a sophomore and a junior,” Slocum said. “I think both of those guys have had really solid years.”