Up 68-67 with 5.8 seconds left, Youngstown State University men’s basketball coach Jerry Slocum knew what was going to happen.
“I said ‘Listen, they’re going to drive it. They’re going to put it up on the glass. Somebody’s got to get a rebound or punch it or knock it or something,’” Slocum said to this team during the final timeout of the game.
After the inbound pass from in front of the Wright State University (13-10, 5-3 Horizon League) bench, everyone on the court saw something different. Senior guard Kendrick Perry saw the Raiders switch to a favorable matchup and make a good backdoor cut for a layup in the closing seconds.
Sophomore forward Ryan Weber saw something else entirely.
“It was all in slow motion it felt like. [Wright State guard] Chrishawn Hopkins came flying out of the corner to the top of the key and I thought he was going to try to take it to the basket, but then Vest made backdoor cut and I just saw the ball come right off my butt to Vest,” Weber said. “I was scared out of my mind that he was going to make the layup, but lucky enough [junior guard DJ Cole] was there to smack it and the ball just went up.”
When the ball went up, the game still wasn’t over. Raiders sophomore guard JT Yoho had a look after an offensive rebound and one final shot. But the layup was no good and YSU (13-9, 4-3 Horizon League) held on to win.
“Yoho had a good look, but the basketball gods were looking out for us,” Weber said.
Perry has been driving the Penguins to make defense a top priority in his final season and a four-game homestand made it clear that the team had heeded his words.
“Two of our key wins at home were on the defensive end, against Cleveland State and tonight. At the beginning of the year, I said we were trying to make defense our statement. So these past few games, I think we’ve proved that,” Perry said.
Perry and Weber led the Penguins with 18 points, tying a career high for Weber. 11 of Perry’s points came from the free throw line, a complete turnaround from Thursday’s game when he went 2 for 8 against Valparaiso University
“My teammates can vouch for me; yesterday and today I don’t think I shot a shot other than free throws because as you can see in games like this they’re truly important,” Perry said. “10 of 13, I still missed three free throws but it’s a work in progress.”
That work in progress — Perry is shooting 71.2% on free throws this season — and a newly found defensive prowess are just two pieces of a whole new game in the Horizon League for YSU.
“A couple of the pieces that we needed to fall did this weekend with a couple teams winning and a couple teams losing. I think we’re all right where we are, it would have been great to win against [Valparaiso] and win today, but the door is wide open for us. We can get where we want to go. It’s looking good,” Weber said.
“It was a great win for us…Obviously that’s a top tier team in our league, but that’s also a team that had four days rest to our 24 hours of rest,” Slocum said. “So the fact that we battled like that and had the energy to battle… It didn’t have to go down to the last pass, but I thought our guys did a tremendous job.”
YSU begins a three-game road trip Friday against Oakland University (8-14, 3-4 Horizon League).