Having lost four consecutive games heading into Saturday night, the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team caught a break with the last-ranked team in the Horizon League, the University of Illinois at Chicago.
At least that’s what the statistics indicated.
The Flames played strong throughout and even held an eight-point halftime lead, but a strong second-half performance by YSU was the difference. The Penguins snapped a four-game losing streak with a 59-56 victory in Beeghly Center.
Kendrick Perry also had a say. He finished with a game-high 31 points (23 in the second half) and collected eight rebounds. Perry also set the Horizon League steals record with just more than four minutes remaining in the first half.
“I’m very proud. Defense is something I take very seriously — even more than my offense,” Perry said. “To be able to be a leader in Horizon League steals is a tremendous honor to me.”
Bobby Hain also had a strong performance with 14 points and a career-high 17 rebounds. He also helped hold UIC (5-21, 0-12 in the Horizon League) to 35.5 percent from the field.
“We just came out with energy tonight,” Hain said. “Tonight, our shots weren’t falling, but we just relied on our defense.”
For the Flames, Kelsey Barlow scored a team-high 17 points while Pat Birt had 15 off the bench.
YSU (14-13, 5-7) only shot 36 percent from the field and 21.4 beyond the 3-point line. The majority of the missed shots came in the first half when the Penguins shot 21.4 percent and made no 3-pointers on nine attempts.
YSU took its first lead of the game at the 4:02 mark in the second half with a Perry 3-point field goal, giving the Penguins a 50-48 lead. After UIC regained a 51-50 lead, D.J. Cole scored a go-ahead bucket that put YSU on top for good.
Barlow nailed a jumper later in the game that cut the Flames’ deficit to 56-53. Shawn Amiker split a pair of free throws with less than 10 seconds remaining. Then, Barlow drained a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left, cutting YSU’s lead to one.
Perry then made two free throws with 0.7 seconds remaining. Barlow attempted a 3-pointer but didn’t get it off in time. Heading into Saturday’s contest, the Penguins were 0-10 when trailing at halftime. “We just have to credit our defense,” Perry said. “If you told me we could win a game while shooting 36 percent, I would probably laugh at you.”
As the season continues to trickle down, the YSU will host the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at home on Thursday. YSU fell at Milwaukee, 82-76, on Jan. 2.
“I really wanted to make a statement with this game because I only have four left,” Perry said. “Along the way, I’ll be able to play some of my best basketball in March.”