By Joe Scalzo
With four of its last five games coming down to one possession, the Youngstown State men’s basketball team is getting plenty of experience in close games.
It should be good for the team.
It might not be good for the coach.
“It doesn’t help me, you know what I mean?” Penguins coach Jerry Slocum joked. “I’m really old.”
The Penguins are 2-2 in those one-possession games, beating Cleveland State (67-66) and Wright State (68-67) and losing to Valparaiso (74-71) and Oakland (86-85).
“We could very easily be 6-2 [in the Horizon League], but we could very easily be 2-6,” Slocum said. “There has been four or five games that have come literally down to the last couple of possessions.
“I think there’s a confidence that they know they’re in every game.”
Halfway through the conference schedule, the Penguins (13-10, 4-4) are sixth in the nine-team Horizon League, but sit just two games out of the second spot. The top two teams in the regular season get byes to the Horizon League’s tournament semifinals.
“The league is incredibly balanced,” Slocum said. “I’ve never seen it as balanced as it is this year. That’s what separates the Horizon League from almost any league out there.
“On every night, there’s gonna be a great basketball game out there.”
With opponents focusing on YSU senior guard Kendrick Perry, YSU sophomores Ryan Weber and Bobby Hain have started to emerge. Weber scored a career-high 20 points with a career-tying nine rebounds in the loss to Oakland, while Hain had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Even more encouraging was the play of senior Kamren Belin, who had 18 points. Belin has had an up-and-down conference season — he scored 13 points combined against Cleveland State, Detroit and Valparaiso — and is averaging just 10.4 points in Horizon League games.
“I just need to let the game come to me and get into the flow,” Belin said. “I don’t need to rush shots. Just relax and play the game.”
Slocum said he expects more from Belin, but said Belin has the same attitude.
“He’s had some games where he hasn’t played up to what we think he’s capable of,” Slocum said. “But I have a lot of faith in him. He’s very capable. I look for him to have a good end of the year.”