By Pete Mollica
Penguins impressive in 82-69 win over High Point
Sirlester Martin led the way with a career-high 20 points. Vytas Sulskis added 13.
YOUNGSTOWN — Pressure can force a basketball team to do strange things on the court.
A team can fold under the pressure or like Youngstown State did Tuesday night, use it to their advantage in an 82-69 victory over High Point, N.C. before 1,421 fans at Beeghly Center.
High Point (4-6) employed a full-court pressure defense the entire game against the Penguins, but YSU never folded under it and actually used it to their advantage as the Penguins improved to 5-6 on the year and now have a chance to even their season record in 2009 with one home game remaining Dec. 30 against Robert Morris.
“We showed really good mental toughness tonight,” said YSU coach Jerry Slocum. “It was a team effort and we will probably never face that type of pressure defense again this season.
“To have just 13 turnovers against that type of pressure was remarkable and I’m so proud of they way this team performed here tonight,” Slocum added.
It wasn’t easy by any means for the Penguins.
Even when they jumped out to an early 17-9 advantage the Panthers just wouldn’t let them pull away. In the first half the game was tied four times and there were seven lead changes before the Penguins came away with a 32-31 halftime advantage.
“It was a total team effort,” Slocum said again. “When we got into some early foul trouble our bench just kept us in the game. We got some solid efforts from Vance [Cooksey] and Zack [Rebillot] at a time when we really needed them.”
The Penguins finished with four players in double figures led by senior Sirlester Martin, who had a career-high 20 points and a team-high nine rebounds, while junior Vytas Sulskis added 13, senior DeAndre Mays had 11 and Rebillot, a senior reserve, equaled his career best with 10 points and seven rebounds.
High Point, who has now lost two straight to the Penguins in the only two games the teams have played, was led by 6-11 senior Cruz Daniels with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Nick Barbour added 15 points.
The Penguins shot extremely well finishing with 52.8 percent from the field on 28-of-53 shots including a red-hot second half when they connected on 16-of-25 shots for 64 percent. They were also 6-of-12 from 3-point range and shot 74.1 percent from the foul line.
“Everybody contributed,” said Rebillot. “We knew we were going to get the pressure and we prepared for it these last two days. We prepared and we executed.”
Martin who connected on 10 of the 14 shots he took, said that the Panthers pressure helped him become open for more shots.
“They were overplaying out front and that left me open more underneath,” Martin added. “It was a big win for us and hopefully we can carry this right into next year and the league season.”
After High Point jumped out to a 5-1 advantage to open the game the Penguins came right back and regained the lead 8-6 on a 3-point shot by Mays. The score was tied at 8-8 when the Penguins went on a 9-1 run including back-to-back 3-point shots by sophomore Ashen Ward and Sulskis to pull to a 17-9 advantage.
But the Panthers whittled away at the lead and tied the contest at 22-22 with 5:57 remaining in the half. The lead then went back and fourth until Martin, who scored six the team’s final eight points scored with 33 seconds left to give the Penguins the lead 32-31.
The contest was last tied at 36-36 early in the second half, but then the Penguins took over. They hit seven of their next eight shots from the field and when Kelvin Bright connected on a 3-pointer the lead went to 52-44 and the Penguins never let the Panthers get any closer.