By Joe Scalzo
A year ago, after his team lost an overtime game to league champion Milwaukee in the regular-season finale, Youngstown State men’s basketball coach Jerry Slocum stood outside the locker room and screamed a few words that, in this publication, would need to be spelled like this: *@!.
It was the frustrating end to a frustrating year.
On Saturday, 364 days later, his team again lost a close finale, this time by two to Detroit.
Same kind of loss. Totally different reaction.
“It’s not time to hang your head or be upset,” said Slocum, whose team fell 76-74 to the Titans at Beeghly Center. “Obviously you can be upset that you didn’t get it done in terms of that game but tomorrow’s a mental prep day for a very, very important time.
“And I think we’re capable ... of coming out and playing well in this tournament.”
Thanks to Thursday’s win over Wright State and Butler’s loss to league champion Valparaiso on Friday, the Penguins entered Saturday’s game knowing they would open the Horizon League tournament at home on Tuesday.
Saturday’s loss dropped YSU (15-14, 10-8) to the sixth seed — it could have finished as high as third — and the Penguins will play host to Green Bay at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Had YSU lost twice this week, it would have traveled to Green Bay instead.
“It’s definitely a confidence-builder,” sophomore guard Kendrick Perry said of playing at home. “You get to sleep in your own bed instead of a hotel bed. You can eat your own meals.
“It’s just a lot better.”
Perry scored 22 points with four assists to lead YSU, which trailed by eight with four minutes left before rallying. The Penguins used a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to one, 70-69, with 2:25 left and the game stayed close the rest of the way.
“We did a good job, didn’t we?” Slocum said, when asked about the comeback. “The kids believed.”
Detroit hit the eventual game-winner with nine seconds left when sophomore point guard Ray McCallum drove to the right side of the hoop and dished to senior center Eli Holman underneath for an easy lay-in. McCallum was guarded well — YSU center Damian Eargle picked him up near the foul line — and the Penguin coaches argued for a three-second call on Holman, to no avail.
Perry hit two free throws with four seconds left to cut it to two, 76-74, and McCallum missed the front end of a one-and-one with three seconds left, but the rebound richoted off a YSU player out of bounds, allowing the Titans (18-13, 11-7) to run out the clock.
Blake Allen and DuShawn Brooks each added 13 points and Damian Eargle had 11 points and seven rebounds for YSU. Chase Simon scored 18 to lead five Titans in double figures.
“We can’t really dwell on the loss,” said Perry, whose 16.8 points per game made him the first Penguin to win a conference scoring title since Quin Humphrey in 2006-07. “We played hard against probably the most talented team in the league.
“Of course it stinks but we have to have a short-term memory for whoever we play on Tuesday.”