By Joe Scalzo
On a sleepy Wednesday night, with the Harlem Globetrotters downtown and the Horizon League leaders in town, Youngstown State junior Kendrick Perry put on a chest-bumping, arm-pumping, elbow-throwing, award-sowing, 3-making, conference standings-shaking performance that did more than make the Penguins the league’s hottest team at the midpoint.
It made them — for the first time since they were in the Mid-Continent Conference more than a decade ago — legitimate conference contenders.
Perry scored 28 points (on just 12 shots) and grabbed 11 rebounds as YSU outclassed first-place Valparaiso, 80-68, in front of a small but feisty Beeghly Center (announced) crowd of 2,584.
“We wanted to put on a good show for them,” Perry said.
They did. And they didn’t need the Washington Generals to do it.
Behind a quick eight points from Perry, Youngstown State (13-8, 5-3 Horizon) jumped out to a 21-9 lead in the first 10 minutes and controlled the game the rest of the way.
It snapped a six-game winning streak for the defending Horizon League regular season champions, and put the Penguins one game back of first place in the league standings.
“Obviously KP was very special,” said YSU coach Jerry Slocum, “but I thought we got a great team contribution tonight.”
Kamren Belin continued his strong play with 16 points and nine rebounds but YSU got key contributions from just about everyone, whether it was a huge 3-pointer from reserve Ryan Weber (his first 3 since November) or nine points in 14 minutes from Shawn Amiker (his best game since losing his starting spot) or a four-point, four-rebound game from freshman Bobby Hain, who banged and battled Valpo’s 6-8, 240-pound senior Kevin Van Wijk when YSU’s Damian Eargle got in foul trouble.
“Whatever it takes,” Perry said, repeating the team’s motto. “You’ve got to give it to some guys like Bobby, who didn’t play in [Saturday’s] Cleveland State game and gave us huge minutes. And Ryan, who barely plays at all, came in and made a huge shot for us.
“It’s just whatever it takes. When your number is called, go out there and contribute some and everything will take care of itself.”
Reigning Horizon League player of the year Ryan Broekhoff scored just 10 points on 3 of 13 shooting with four turnovers for the Crusaders (16-6, 6-2), who came back from 22 down against Detroit but never threatened YSU.
“I thought we did a really good job on [Broekhoff],” Slocum said. “I thought going into the game Broekhoff was the best player in the conference. I’ve seen him on film just take games over.”
Van Wijk, who missed last year’s loss at YSU, had a quiet 14 points and four rebounds and the Penguins matched the Crusaders’ physical play, holding Valparaiso to 41 percent shooting while winning the rebounding battle (37-34).
“That’s their M.O.,” Slocum said, calling it YSU’s most physical game of the year. “You have to be tough to be in a game with them because they’re gonna hit ya, bump ya, hold ya.”
Now YSU heads to Detroit, which handed the Penguins a 41-point loss three weeks ago.
“Obviously our worst showing of the year was against them,” Slocum said. “We’re a different basketball team right now.
“We look forward to the challenge.”