Youngstown State University junior forward Damian Eargle swatted away University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee senior forward Tony Meier’s game-tying shot attempt in the closing seconds, preserving the 68-66 victory.
Clutch free-throw shooting and a monster first half by junior guard Blake Allen aided the Penguins (10-8, 5-3). Allen scored 22 of his game and career-high 27 in the first half behind a 7-7 shooting performance.
Allen credits Eargle and a late offensive putback by senior guard Ashen Ward for the Penguins’ victory.
“That’s the game,” Allen said in the post-game press conference. “Ashen hit the bucket to put us up, and Damian made the block to secure the game. Those guys have been huge for us all year, and it was no different tonight.”
Ward finished with 13 points and six rebounds. Eargle posted a double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
Head coach Jerry Slocum said in the press conference that Eargle played one of his best games in a YSU uniform.
“There’s no other big in the league that can guard guards like Damian can,” Slocum said. “Because of his length and his size and because of how good his feet are, Damian can play off of you a little bit and still get the pressure on the jump shot.”
The Panthers (13-7, 6-2) went into the game as first place in the Horizon League. Senior guard Kaylon Williams led the team with 18 points (15 in the second half) and eight rebounds.
Slocum said the team battled throughout and had to be ready for Williams.
“We told the kids at the half that Williams was going to play a lot of minutes in the second half, and he is such a clutch player,” Slocum said. “I thought our foul shooting was a key. I thought Ash gave us a good lift tonight. It was one of those basic Horizon League tough ones.”
The Penguins trailed early on before going on a 20-5 run to take a 33-23 lead. Ward and Allen hit back-to-back threes to bring fans at Beeghly Center to their feet. The Penguins went into halftime leading 41-30.
The Panthers used a strong second half performance by Williams to eventually take a 61-59 lead, their first since the 9:47 mark in the first half.
Allen said the team remained calm while the Panthers made their run.
“We have been in a lot of close games this year before, and we just kind of stayed patient,” Allen said. “We just executed on offense and defense and just tried to make plays at the end.”
Two key stats for the Penguins were free-throw shooting and rebounding. Slocum said those two categories helped determine the outcome.
“We outrebounded them, and that’s been an Achilles’ heel for us,” Slocum said. “We are not a beefy group, and we have got to battle.”
Slocum told the team before the game to not look back at its previous two losses — but look to that night. He felt that his players did just that.
“I have always said I am not a rear-view mirror guy,” Slocum said. “I was trying to get our guys to understand that during our last possession, you just have to let it go. It is not about what is behind you; it is about what is in front of you. And what’s ahead of you in the No. 1 team coming to your place.”
The Penguins return to play Sunday at 2 p.m. against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay at Beeghly Center.