YSU men overwhelm first-place Valparaiso
By Joe Scalzo
On Friday afternoon, just hours after the type of loss that would have left previous YSU teams in a five-day funk, Penguins men’s basketball coach Jerry Slocum walked off the practice floor, looked over at radio broadcaster Robb Schmidt and said, “Wow. We’re ready.”
With Valparaiso’s best player, junior forward Kevin Van Wijk, sidelined with a knee injury, the Penguins overwhelmed the Crusaders on Saturday night with their energy and athleticism, rolling to a 71-53 victory at Beeghly Center.
It snapped a 14-game losing streak to the Crusaders — the Penguins hadn’t beaten Valparaiso since 2000, a year before they joined the Horizon League — and marked the third time this season YSU has beaten the Horizon League’s then-No. 1 team.
“I think when we’re focused, our energy level is good and our mind is clear, I think we can hang with anybody in the league,” said Slocum, whose team lost to Valparaiso 76-62 on Jan. 13 after giving up 23 points to Van Wijk. “That exact same team beat Cleveland State at Cleveland State [on Thursday].
“People might say, ‘Well, Van Wijk didn’t play.’ Well, he didn’t play the other night, either. He only played seven minutes.”
YSU held Valparaiso to its season-low in points thanks to a first-half defensive masterpiece. Valparaiso shot just 6 of 22 from the field in the first 20 minutes and scored just four points over the half’s final 10.
“I thought that, as a group, we were pretty embarrassed after the Butler game,” said Slocum, referring to Thursday’s 68-59 loss to the Bulldogs. “For us to come down and have that kind of defensive energy, I think it says a lot about our kids.”
Senior DuShawn Brooks snapped out of a two-game funk to score 20 points for the Penguins (14-11, 9-6), who are guaranteed to finish at least .500 for the first time in the Horizon League. Sophomore Kendrick Perry added 23 points.
“I just wanted to be aggressive and play hard for my team and bounce back from a terrible loss when we played Butler,” said Brooks, who scored 14 in the first half as the Penguins took a 32-20 lead. “Knowing we should have beat them [the Bulldogs] here at home, I just came out here with a cool, calm and collected mindset and played pretty good.”
Richie Edwards scored Valparaiso’s first 10 points and finished with 19, while Ryan Broekhoff added 12, albeit on 2 of 10 shooting thanks to strong defense from YSU guard Ashen Ward.
The Crusaders (18-9, 11-4) hold a half-game lead over Cleveland State in the standings. YSU, which split the season series with those teams, is tied for third with Butler.
The Penguins may not have played well in every game this season, but they’ve played their best after their worst losses.
“Of course we were devastated after the Butler loss,” said Perry. “We knew we didn’t show up. So, preparing for Valpo, we knew that anything less than 100 percent wasn’t going to do.
“I guess we came out with the mindset that we have to have 100 percent, if not more, for 40 minutes.”