Defense wins championships, even in basketball
Going into Sunday’s game against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Youngstown State University ranked second in the Horizon League (HL) with 72.1 points per game.
The Penguins negative rebounding margin (-1.1) clashed against Green Bay, who are tied for first in the league, on average grabbing 4.4 more boards per game than their opponents.
Fifteen more rebounds and an offense that completed more than half of its shots combined for a 71-54 Phoenix victory.
“I thought it was a horrific effort on our part at the offensive end,” said YSU coach Jerry Slocum. “They obviously have size, and their length affected us.”
YSU (15-12, 7-7) also fell to Green Bay (15-12, 9-5) on Jan. 17, 67-58. Only these two games against Green Bay have the Penguins scored less than 60 points versus HL opponents this season.
“Rebounding is all about who wants it more, so that’s going to be an emphasis going into these last few games that we have,” said junior guard Kendrick Perry.
Senior forward Damian Eargle, who leads the team with 6.5 rebounds per contest, did not play for the second straight game, nursing a broken nose.
“Obviously it’s tough when you lose a big piece like Damian, but I don’t think it affects us that much,” Perry said.
Freshman Bobby Hain filled the void and lead the team in scoring with 14 points and eight rebounds, but his defense cast a cloud over his offensive performance.
“Bobby’s as gifted offensively as any freshman big I’ve coached, but Bobby also has to learn and understand that there’s two ends of the floor,” Slocum said. “It’s not a football game.”
Hain had to guard senior center Alec Brown who finished with 16 points.
“I thought this would be a game that we’d miss Damian,” Slocum said. “He’s really guarded Brown well over the years.”
Eargle is hopeful that he’ll play against Central Michigan University on Saturday.
Despite the 17-point defeat, YSU trailed by five with 6:57 remaining in the game. Then the Penguins missed several critical shots, paving the way for a 20-8 scoring run by Green Bay.
“You’re not going to win basketball games when you do that, and on top of that we had some breakdowns rebounding the ball also,” Slocum said.
In a battle between two of the conference’s top shooters, sophomore Keifer Sykes outworked Perry. Sykes finished with a game-high 24 points while Perry finished with 13, hitting only three shots on nine attempts.
Saturday’s bracket buster is not a conference battle, but Perry said he always looks for an opportunity to improve.
“With every game and every practice and every day, you can always learn,” Perry said. “No matter if it’s a bracket buster or a league game. We’re going to bring that passion.”