If the Youngstown State basketball team is going to advance to the second round of the Horizon League tournament, it’s going to have to disprove the axiom about the difficulty of beating a team — in this case Loyola — three times in a season.
The Penguins (16-14, 7-9 Horizon) also might have to get it done without their best all-around player.
Guard Kendrick Perry, named a first-team All-Horizon League selection on Monday, is unlikely to play tonight when YSU and Loyola meet at Beeghly Center.
“The latest on him is — I don’t know,” Penguins coach Jerry Slocum said. “That moves from a definite ‘No’ before to an ‘I don’t know’ right now.
“If you had to paint me into a corner, I’d say probably not. If we were able to get past [tonight], I don’t think there’s any question he’d be ready to go on Friday.”
Perry injured a knee in practice on Feb. 20 and hasn’t played since. The junior is second in scoring (16.9 points per game) in the Horizon League and also leads YSU in assists (4.1) and steals (2.0) per game.
“I don’t think there is a guard in our league that has the full balance that he has,” Slocum said. “He scores the ball, gets to foul line (139 of 164, 84 percent), has a very high assists-to-turnovers ratio (112 to 55) and he guards everybody else’s best player.”
Perry also made the Horizon League All-Defensive Team with teammate Damian Eargle, who was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Eargle, a Warren Harding High graduate, is averaging 3.1 blocks, 11.8 points and a 6.2 rebounds.
“I’m happy for Damian,” Slocum said. “He’s had a great career here and to be the Defensive Player of the Year in the league is a great accomplishment for him.”
Junior Kamren Belin (10.4 points, 5.2 rebounds), a 6-foot-7 forward, was named to the Horizon League’s All-Newcomer team.
“Kam has had a second semester in terms of quality of play as good as anyone we’ve had in our program,” Slocum said.
YSU beat Loyola, 68-66, on Jan. 5 in Chicago on a basket by Perry with 4 seconds to play. The Penguins beat the Ramblers, 60-59, on Feb. 7 at Beeghly Center. Senior guard Blake Allen won that game with a 3-pointer with 10 seconds to play.
Slocum said YSU didn’t play particularly well in either regular-season game against Loyola.
“We’ve had good halves,” he said. “When we played them the first time, we played a really good second half up there. When we played them at home, we had a really good first half. We’re going to have to put two together in this one.”
Slocum said the Penguins must contain Loyola guard Devon Turk (8.8 points, 64 3-pointers) on the perimeter and forward Christian Thomas (12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds) inside. Forward Ben Averkamp averages a team-leading 14.9 points.
The Ramblers (15-15, 5-11) are healthy now after some midseason injuries. The Penguins have played through a stretch in which Eargle (broken nose) and now Perry have been out.
“It’s been a different three weeks that we’ve had here,” Slocum said. “You had a bunch of games without the defensive player of the year in the league and you’re going into your second full week, your fourth or fifth game, without one of your better players.
“I think that we’ve adjusted well. Has it been good enough? It has not been. Obviously, since those guys have been down, we’re 3-4. Do I think it could have been better? Yeah, but it is what it is. Nobody is feeling sorry for us. We’ve got to get ready to play.”