Outscoring Kent State University by eight points in the second half, Penguins head basketball coach Jerry Slocum was pleased with how his team competed in the final 20 minutes.
As for the first 20?
“It was atrocious,” he said.
As a result, Youngstown State University fell to the Flashes, 83-79, Wednesday at the M.A.C. Center. The Penguins were unable to dig out of a 42-30 halftime deficit created by 12 turnovers and 10 KSU offensive rebounds.
“I thought it was a great basketball game but very disappointed by our performance in the first half,” Slocum said. “We’ve put together good halves but not games.”
YSU (6-2) used a 14-2 run in the first 4:30 of the second half to tie the game at 44. Kamren Belin, who finished with a career-high 32 points, sparked much of that run.
“I came out with a lot of focus,” said Belin, who shot 2 of 7 in the first half. “Just gave a lot of energy to get our.team back in the game.”
The senior forward finished 7 of 14 for the contest, knocking down 14 of 15 free throws.
“I just got to get my shot more consistent and get going in the first half,” Belin said.
Kendrick Perry added 15 points and helped keep the Penguins in the game until the final seconds. KSU (7-1) led 68-66 with five minutes remaining, then 82-79 with 47.7 seconds left after a Belin 3-pointer.
The Penguins got the stop they needed, but a missed 3-pointer by the Flashes Kris Brewer ricochet out-of-bounds off YSU’s Ryan Weber. KSU’s Derek Jackson then made one free throw to secure the victory.
“Whether we’re up by 10 or down by 10, we tell ourselves to keep fighting and everything will work out,” Jackson said. “So we just kept thinking positive and went down the court [in the final minutes] and executed.”
The Flashes shot 46 percent in the second half compared to 40 percent in the first. Belin said YSU had trouble getting stops when it needed them.
“We broke down defensively,” he said. “They got a lot of open shots and that was the difference.”
Part of the reason was the absence of guard DJ Cole for much of the second half. He exited early with a left ankle injury.
“It hurt us, especially defensively,” Slocum said. “He’s such a rock-solid guy for us at the defensive end.”
Jackson led KSU with 15 points, while Brewer added 14.
Ryan Weber also scored 10 points for the Penguins, who next play Saturday at home against Austin Peay.
“I wish we could have won this, but it was a good challenge,” Belin said. “Kent is always a good game for us and it sets the bar for the rest of the season.”