If there was any notion that Saturday’s nonconference BracketBuster game is unimportant, it was quickly dismissed by head men’s basketball coach Jerry Slocum.
First off, the game is Senior Night for the Penguins, meaning that starters Damien Eargle and Blake Allen will be honored as Youngstown State University’s lone seniors. “[It’s] saying farewell this year to two guys who have had just great careers here,”
Slocum said at Wednesday’s press conference. “They’re guys that I clearly appreciate and respect.”
Second, after losing four of their last six games, the Penguins will try to use the matchup with Central Michigan University to get back on track.
The game against the Chippewas — which is scheduled for Saturday at 7:05 p.m. inside Beeghly Center — precedes YSU’s final two Horizon League matchups.
The Penguins (15-12) end their regular season at Valparaiso University on Tuesday and at Wright State University on March 2.
“Obviously, you’re going into two games next week that are league games that will lead into your playoff games,” Slocum said. “We want to go into that with good momentum.”
While CMU is only 9-16, it will be no walk in the park for YSU, Slocum said. The Chippewas compete in the Mid-American Conference, where they hold a 2-10 league record.
“They’re clearly playing in a really good league and played a lot of good teams of late — Ohio [University], Kent State [University] and [the University of] Akron,” Slocum said. “So, we know that they’re going to be battle-tested in terms of those games. It should be a great college basketball game.”
YSU should receive a boost from the return of Eargle, who missed the previous two games with a broken nose. He had surgery on his nose only three days ago.
“It feels amazing — I wish I could say that,” Eargle said. “It still hurts a little bit, but I got the mask, so I’ll just play through it.”
Eargle has never played with a protective mask before, but doesn’t anticipate that it will be a problem.
“As soon as I get used to shooting and running around with it, I should be fine,” he said.
Averaging 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, Eargle plans to start and play heavy minutes. Without the senior forward, freshman Bobby Hain started in his place. Hain scored six and 14 points as the Penguins won the first game and lost the second game.
“I hate watching, but when you’re winning, it makes it a lot better,” Eargle said. “I like seeing the freshmen do good and get some time for experience. The second game I could tell they needed me just a little bit, and it kind of hurt.”
At 7-7, YSU sits in fifth place in the HL standings.
And while next week looms large for the conference tournament seedings, Eargle said YSU is first focused on CMU.
“I’m just worried about this game right now. Then, when we play Valpo and Wright State, we’ll see,” Eargle said. “I don’t really know where we’re at. I’ll leave that up to the coaches.”