By Joe Scalzo
In the two days leading up to Youngstown State’s home opener, senior guard Blake Allen figures he shot between 800 and 900 3-pointers before practice.
“That’s pretty typical,” he said.
In the first half of Friday’s home opener, he shot two.
That’s not typical. It’s also not enough.
So, over a key stretch in the second half, Allen got more aggressive, going 5-for-5 from behind the arc to help the Penguins turn a nine-point lead into 19 and shake off pesky Saint Francis for a 75-60 win at Beeghly Center.
“Yeah, he was pretty good,” YSU coach Jerry Slocum said of Allen. “He really carried us.”
Allen finished with 18 points and junior guard Kendrick Perry added game-highs in points (19) and rebounds (seven) for the Penguins (3-0), while Damian Eargle had 12 points, Kamren Belin had 11 and Shawn Amiker 11.
The bad news is, all five of those guys are starters as the Penguins got just four points from their bench.
The Red Flash’s small lineup — all five starters are 6-foot-6 or shorter — created matchup problems for a YSU team that finally has some size and depth in the frontcourt. It forced Slocum to play a seven-man rotation with all five starters logging 30 minutes or more.
“That’s a hard team to guard,” Slocum said. “They play four smalls and it kind of takes away from us having [6-10 freshman] Bobby [Hain] on the floor at times. But at the end of the day, a win is a good win anytime you can get it.”
Neither team led by more than five points in a disjointed, turnover-plagued first half. YSU finally pushed the lead to double digits with 15 minutes left in the second half — on the first of Allen’s five 3-pointers over the final 20 minutes — and kept it there the rest of the way.
“The big thing in the second half is we played with a little more energy,” said Allen, whose team is 3-0 for the second straight year. “I thought we were a little dead. I don’t know if it was first-home-game jitters or whatever but I thought we were a little dead energy-wise in the first half.
“In the second half, we fed off our defense and were able to get it going offensively.”
Afterward, Slocum admitted, “We have to learn how to play at home,” but the Penguins won’t have that chance for awhile. Their next home game is Nov. 28 against Kent State and they’ll face one of the most challenging stretches of the season next week.
YSU plays three games in three days starting Monday against North Dakota State. All three games at Duquesne are part of the Legends Classic.
“It’ll definitely be a challenge,” Allen said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve never had anything like that. But I guess the positive thing about that is we’ll really see where we’re at.
“Also, the other teams have to play three games in three days as well, so that’ll be an even playing field. Don’t look for that to be an excuse for us. We’ve just got to come out and play as well as we can.”
Slocum, who is 658-460 over 38 seasons, said he has never had a team play three games in three days.
“You’ve heard me say this — I think the beginning of the year for us is a gauntlet schedule,” said Slocum, whose first two games were on the road against George Washington and Georgia. “Somebody down in Georgia asked me this question and said, ‘Who does your scheduling?’ And I gave him a little smile and he says, ‘Well, man, it’s not very smart.’ And I said, ‘Uh, thanks.’
“It’s a brutal stretch but I give our guys credit. We’ve really battled and we’ve got a major, major challenge ahead of us.”