By Joe scalzo
Before the season, Cleveland State men’s basketball coach Gary Waters had a message for the rest of the Horizon League, “Better get us now.”
On Saturday, Youngstown State had this reply: “Thanks, we’d be happy to.”
A year after getting blitzed at home by the Vikings, the Penguins trailed for all of 39 seconds en route to a decisive, and often dominant, 73-59 Horizon League victory in front of 4,395 at Beeghly Center.
“Whatever the reason is, we have never played well against Cleveland State in this game at home,” said Penguins coach Jerry Slocum, whose team had dropped four straight home games to the Vikings by an average of 14 points. “We talked to those guys about the importance of being able to handle the moment at home.
“I thought we played very, very well.”
You can add an extra “very” to Kamren Belin’s performance. The junior forward scored 15 points in the first half and finished with a career-high 24 points for YSU (12-8, 4-3), which finished the first half with an 18-2 run to take a 42-27 lead. (The Vikings led 41-19 at halftime of last year’s Beeghly game.)
“Every time I hit a shot, even if I miss it, the team is always telling me to keep shooting, keep shooting,” said Belin, who made 7 of 14, including 4 of 9 from behind the arc. “During a timeout during the second half, KP [Kendrick Perry] kept telling me ,‘Stay aggressive.’ And that’s what I did.”
Perry added 17 points on just eight shots, Damian Eargle had 14 points and four blocks and D.J. Cole scored nine points with a game-high nine rebounds, despite being (at best) a 5-foot-11 point guard.
“I feel like whether it’s me hitting a shot or Dame [Eargle] hitting a shot or anybody hitting a shot, the energy just builds,” Belin said.
Freshman Bryn Forbes scored 19 points with seven rebounds to lead CSU (10-12, 2-6), which played its 15th straight game without injured sophomore Anton Grady (knee). Lacking the firepower (and experience) they had the past few years, the Vikings trailed by double digits for 20 of the last 23 minutes.
“It’s too many new faces to do what we’ve done in the past,” said Waters, who has just one senior and whose roster has a total of just 11 years of college experience. “When you’re dealing with as many young kids as we are, you’re going to be up and down.”
“We’ve just got to figure it out. And the more games they play, the better they’ll figure it out”
Considering the teams play each other again on Feb. 5, Waters’ team doesn’t have much time.
“They’re a very good offensive team,” Waters said of the Penguins. “If you don’t stop them from what they do offensively, you’re going to have a hard time beating them.”