By Joe Scalzo
When your leading scorer is practicing his free throws less than 15 minutes after the game ends and another starter shoots 1 for 15 from the field — and reporters are clamoring to interview him — odds are pretty good that you just won ugly.
All that mattered to YSU senior forward DuShawn Brooks was that he just won.
“To me, it’s a win no matter how we get it,” said Brooks after the Penguins’ 53-49 overtime victory over visiting UC-Riverside on Friday. “It could be ugly, it could be pretty. It could be the worst win we get this season.
“It’s a win. And I’m happy.”
Brooks shook off a 1 for 15 night to grab a career-high 14 rebounds as he and the Penguins turned in a stellar defensive performance, improving to 3-0 for the first time since 2000.
YSU made just one field goal in the overtime session but shot 9 of 12 from the free throw line to survive.
“I thought we battled,” said YSU coach Jerry Slocum. “Obviously we shot the ball horrifically at times but we made foul shots when it mattered.”
YSU trailed 49-47 late in OT before Damian Eargle made two free throws with 41.8 seconds left. Riverside’s Elliott Berry then missed the front end of a one-and-one and Ashen Ward grabbed the rebound.
YSU’s Kendrick Perry drew a foul on the other end, making both free throws to give the Penguins a 51-49 lead with 26.6 left.
In the closing seconds, Riverside opted to isolate guard Phil Martin against Ward at the top of the key and Martin waited until five seconds remained to drive left into traffic, where he was met by Brooks, who challenged the shot, grabbed the rebound and got fouled.
Furious about not getting the call — and about the 14-7 foul discrepancy against his team in the final 25 minutes — Highlanders coach Jim Wooldridge quickly picked up two technicals and got tossed, making sure to wish one official a happy Thanksgiving on his way out, then pointing at another to wish him a Merry Christmas.
Ward had 15 points, Eargle scored 11 to go with 11 rebounds and eight blocks and Perry had 10 points, although he missed three of four technical free throws at the end, prompting his postgame practice session.
But it was Brooks’ performance that drew the biggest praise from Slocum.
“I’m as proud of him tonight as I’ve been since I’ve coached him,” said Slocum, who felt Brooks didn’t let his shooting struggles affect his defensive performance. “There’s a lot more to his game than shooting.”
YSU shot just 22.4 percent from the field and 15.8 percent from 3-point range but did just enough to win.
“Obviously, now we go play six of eight on the road, so we’ve got to keep banging,” said Slocum. “These guys are battlers and I’m proud of them tonight.”