By Joe Scalzo
He entered Saturday’s game as a 0 percent 3-point shooter at YSU — a perfect 0 for 1 in each of the last three years — but when he was asked about making the first of his career, senior forward Damian Eargle broke into a slight grin and said, “I’m glad coach has confidence in me to shoot the 3.”
On a night filled with fun moments, Eargle may have had the best when, with 9:55 left in the second half of a 71-44 win over Hiram, he rose up on the left wing and bumped his career 3-point percentage to a sizzling 17 percent.
“I knock them down at practice, so I was like, ‘Before my senior year is over, I’m gonna get a 3,’ ” said Eargle, who celebrated like he had just made a game-winner.
What did his coach tell him?
“I heard a ‘Noooo,’” Eargle said, laughing. “That’s about it.”
“I knew the first one [attempt] was going up,” YSU coach Jerry Slocum added later. “Then when he took a step back and shot the second one, there was a ‘no.’ ”
Eargle finished with game-highs in points (20), rebounds (nine), blocks (four) and steals (four) as YSU (6-4) won the first college basketball game in Covelli Centre history.
“I thought the Covelli people did a tremendous job,” Slocum said. “I thought it was a great atmosphere. I thought they did a great job during the game and the timeouts and all those kind of things.
“I would come back here every year for this event if it continually grows and we can get somebody special [as an opponent].”
Hiram, a Division III team with a 1-4 record, was chosen for the first year so the Covelli could iron out all the kinks for its first NCAA game. Turns out, the biggest kink in the inaugural Downtown Round Ball Classic was YSU couldn’t shoot from downtown, making just 3 of 26 from behind the arc.
“It’s a tough place to shoot in,” said Slocum. “That would be my only concern [in future games]. Maybe we need to practice more down here. It’s not a negative toward the event or the environment.”
Both sides hope to make this an annual event that draws a big-name program. (Ohio State is the biggest target but Slocum has mentioned teams such as Pitt, Notre Dame and Michigan State.) Covelli Centre director Eric Ryan said he envisions this as a three-day event that also has high school games or a YSU women’s basketball game.
Ryan promised to pull out all the stops for Saturday and he delivered, hiring Cleveland Browns public address announcer, Jeff Shreve, to go with video board standbys such as the “Kiss Cam,” the “Flex Cam,” and the “Dance Cam.” There were more elaborate promotions than at Beeghly Center (one fan won a pair of tickets to Kenny G’s upcoming concert at the Covelli while another won four tickets to an upcoming Harlem Globetrotters game) and, of course, beer.
Saturday’s game drew just 1,576 fans — the Covelli Centre kept the ticket sales in exchange for giving YSU the building rent-free for the night — which was five fewer than the announced crowd for Thursday’s game against Geneva. But Hiram’s low profile (the Terriers compete in Division III, as does Geneva) and the event’s unfamiliarity may have kept potential fans away.
The fans who did come were treated to five YSU dunks and a stifling defensive performance that limited Hiram to 26-percent shooting from the field.