Everything seems to revolve around Kendrick Perry for the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team.
He leads the Horizon League in scoring. He is the only player in the nation averaging at least 20 points and 2.5 steals per game. He is, arguably, the best player on the court in the conference, offensively and defensively.
But the Penguins do not solely win on Perry’s performances. While Kamren Belin and himself are keyed on during league play, it’s time for the other guys such as Ryan Weber, DJ Cole and Bobby Hain to make an impact.
Head coach Jerry Slocum told his team exactly that.
“Coach said it to me, Bobby and DJ before the beginning of conference play,” Weber said in Monday’s press conference. “‘Everybody knows KP and Kam. They had big conference games last year, and they’ve been playing well in the first semester.
“‘They’re going to be keyed on, so you guys got to be ready to make plays when it’s time and know that we need you guys to step up.’ I guess we’ve just been doing what we were told.”
Saturday’s 77-63 victory over the University of Detroit Mercy proved that statement. Perry and Belin combined for 19 points (13 from Perry). Cole paced YSU (12-8, 3-2 in the Horizon League) with 22 points, nine assists, four 3-pointers and six rebounds. All statistics were team highs and all but rebounds were game highs.
“I’ve liked the way we’ve shared the ball lately,” Slocum said on Monday.
Hain scored 18 points and even hit a 3-point field goal. Weber finished with 13 points (three 3-pointers) in 28 minutes. He ranks eighth in the conference with a 40.8 3-point field goal percentage.
“When they’re not going [in], I just keep shooting,” Weber said. “I think that was an issue that I had last year. I would get down on myself and shy away from. This year, I found that confidence in my shot.”
While the offense ranks first in the conference scoring 79.7 points per game, the defense is still trying to find its groove.
“Last year, we had [Damian Eargle] in the paint blocking every shot,” Weber said. “Now we have to really emphasize on playing team defense and helping each other out.”
The Penguins rank seventh in the Horizon League, allowing 72.6 points per game. Their next opponent, Valparaiso University on Thursday, is the third-best scoring offense in the conference (77.8 points per game) and ranks second in field goal percentage (48).
Slocum said the Crusaders (11-9, 3-2) are one of the most gifted teams that he’s seen offensively.
“They’re probably a little better than last year in terms of going off the dribble,” he added.
Valpo is also the best 3-point shooting team, nailing 38.9 percent of its shots. Individually, LaVonte Dority is the sixth-best shooter in the conference, scoring 16 points per game.
“He just scores. It’s in his blood or something,” Weber said.
After Thursday’s contest, YSU will remain home on Saturday as it faces Wright State University. The Raiders (13-9, 5-2), the conference’s second-best team, faced the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Tuesday, 73-57. They have a couple extra days to prepare for YSU, a topic Slocum would like to see change in the future.
“To me, there’s a competitive disadvantage to play Thursday and then turn around and have to play on Saturday while one team plays on Tuesday and has two or three days to prepare,” he said. “At some point, you’d like to think that we can get this thing right in terms of conference stuff.”
Saturday’s contest will be the second game of a doubleheader along with the women. Also, before the doubleheader, YSU will host the sixth annual Family Fun Day, presented by Meridian Community Care, at Stambaugh Stadium from 2-4:30 p.m.