By Joe Scalzo
On Thursday night, it wasn’t always clear which school had the best team on the floor.
After 45 minutes, there was no doubt which one had the best player on the floor.
Youngstown State senior Kendrick Perry scored 24 of his career-high 35 points in the final 131/2 minutes to help the Penguins rally from a 10-point deficit to beat Milwaukee for an 88-83 overtime victory at Beeghly Center.
“I just had to be aggressive,” said Perry, who also had nine rebounds, five assists and four steals. “As a leader of this team, I have to know when my team needs a basket or when for me to make a play. Sometimes it’s not me scoring. It’s getting a steal, getting an assist, getting a rebound. Tonight it was just a scoring night for me.
“I’m glad I was able to do that for my team.”
Perry scored six points in the overtime session and Ryan Weber, who had struggled all night, scored five straight points in a decisive stretch that gave YSU the lead for good, 84-83, with 1:05 left.
Perry then made two free throws and D.J. Cole split four free throws in the closing seconds to seal it. Perry finished 8 of 13 from the free throw line, giving him 165 made free throws for the season, a YSU record.
“I thought it was a hard-fought ballgame; it wasn’t pretty,” YSU coach Jerry Slocum said. “When we were down 10, it looked pretty hopeless.
“I don’t think we necessarily played great, but I thought we battled.”
Bobby Hain added 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists for the Penguins (15-13, 6-7 Horizon League), who have won two straight and need one more win for their third straight winning regular season.
Kamren Belin also had 14 and Cole finished with 11 points and nine assists. Weber, Hain and Perry all finished with four fouls.
Austin Arians scored 28 points and made all seven of his 3-point attempts to lead Milwaukee (16-11, 6-7), which entered the game on a three-game winning streak. The Panthers seemed poised to make it four when they took a 59-49 lead with 9:36 left.
But Cole made a layup and Perry scored YSU’s next 10 points to give the Penguins a 61-59 lead with 6:57 left.
YSU actually led by four, 72-68, with 2:35 left but the Penguins were held scoreless over the final two minutes of regulation.
The Penguins are now in a three-way tie for fifth place in the league standings with Milwaukee and Detroit with three games left.
If they win all three, they have an outside shot of finishing third in the league standings and getting a first-round bye.
“It’s such a cluster of teams,” Slocum said. “You can finish anywhere from third or fourth or fifth. It’s just open right now. So it’ll be interesting, obviously, to see [what happens].
“But I don’t spend any time or energy thinking about that stuff. I got enough problems.”