By Joe Scalzo
Coming off its rockiest performance of the season, the Youngstown State men’s basketball team found inspiration from Rocky.
Saturday’s pregame introduction featured a monologue from “Rocky Balboa,” with quotes like “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows” and “It ain’t about hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Visiting UIC drove home that message by opening up an 11-point first-half lead, but senior guard Kendrick Perry rallied the Penguins down the stretch for a 59-56 victory at Beeghly Center.
Perry scored 31 points, including 23 in the second half, and grabbed eight rebounds for the Penguins (14-13, 5-7 Horizon League), who had lost four straight, including a 71-40 beatdown on Thursday to Green Bay.
“Any game like Thursday for me is unacceptable at all levels,” said Perry, who chided himself for playing passively against the Phoenix. “I just wanted to make a statement with this game.”
Sophomore Bobby Hain added 14 points and a career-best 17 rebounds for YSU, which didn’t take its first lead until Perry’s 3-pointer made it 50-48 with 4:02 remaining in the second half. UIC’s Kelsey Barlow immediately answered with a 3-pointer, but the Penguins held the Flames scoreless over the next 3:25 to take a 56-51 lead.
Barlow scored five points in the final 20 seconds to make things interesting, but after YSU played the Rocky theme song, Shawn Amiker hit one free throw with eight seconds left and Perry hit a pair with 0.7 seconds remaining to seal it.
“I thought it was a gritty game on our end, in terms of the defensive end,” YSU coach Jerry Slocum said. “I thought we just battled. At no stretch did I think it was pretty.”
YSU held UIC to 40-percent shooting from the field, offsetting a poor shooting night by the Penguins, who made just 6 of 28 in the first half to fall behind 27-19. With sophomore forward Ryan Weber sidelined with a broken nose and freshman guard Marcus Keene suspended indefinitely, Slocum played his starters for all but eight minutes. UIC’s bench outscored YSU 21-0.
Weber played with a facemask in Thursday’s loss and was expected to play Saturday but “he had to get it [the nose] set,” Slocum said. “[I] was expecting him to just go to the doctors and they’d be able to put it in place and then he’d be able to play again on this game but it was more than what they thought.”
Barlow scored 17 points to lead the Flames (5-21, 0-12), the Horizon League’s only winless team. Pat Birt added 15.
Perry had one steal to give him 238 for his career, breaking the Horizon League’s record previously held by Green Bay’s Terry Evans.
“It’s a tremendous honor for me,” Perry said of the record. “I’m very proud of my defense. It’s something I take very seriously, a lot more than my offense.”
YSU is in a three-way tie for sixth in the league standings with Oakland and Detroit and is just one game behind fourth-place Milwaukee.
“It’s definitely a motivation boost going into Milwaukee next game,” Hain said of Saturday’s win. “It’s definitely a big game and we’ve just got to bring the same intensity and hopefully make some shots the next game.”