By Joe Scalzo
A day after hitting the snooze button one too many times in an embarrassing loss at Wright State, the Youngstown State men’s basketball team came to practice on Sunday wide awake.
“To be honest, I backed off practice on Sunday,” YSU coach Jerry Slocum said Thursday. “Those guys were ready to go.
“It was just a walk-through day with game plan stuff and they kept saying, ‘Coach, we going to scrimmage today? We gonna go?’ And I was like, ‘No, we’re going light today.’ ”
The Penguins were coming off their worst performance of the season, a 72-45 loss to the Raiders, and Slocum believes that served as a wake-up call for what happened Tuesday when the Penguins beat Loyola 62-60 in the first round of the Horizon League tournament.
“That was a great win for us in terms of effort, toughness and execution,” Slocum said. “Now we get a chance to keep playing.”
The Penguins (17-14) also get another chance at Wright State (19-11) when they meet today at 6 p.m. in the tournament quarterfinals at Valparaiso.
“They pretty much punched us in the mouth from the get-go,” senior Blake Allen said of Saturday’s game. “We really played into what they like to do defensively.
“Wright State is a tough team but if we just do things a little bit different than we did in the last game, I think we’ll be fine.”
YSU beat Wright State 68-61 on Jan. 19 back when both teams were at full strength. Tonight, each team will be without its best player: Penguin guard Kendrick Perry (left knee) is doubtful while Raiders forward Cole Darling (foot) has been ruled out for the rest of the year.
YSU has advanced to the tournament’s second round for the second straight year but has never played in the semifinals since joining the league in 2001-02.
The Penguins lost to Detroit in last year’s quarterfinals, also in Valparaiso, and played at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Feb. 26, faltering late in a 73-64 loss to the Crusaders.
“Obviously, we’re familiar with the environment,” Allen said. “Just the experience of being in the same position last year, that will be huge for me.
“We’re very confident [we can win the tournament]. If you look at the teams we have to play, we don’t fear anybody. I think we have as good a chance as anyone for it to happen.”