By Joe Scalzo
On Friday night, the Youngstown State men’s basketball team will get its second look at Oakland senior Travis Bader.
It’s hard to forget the first one.
Bader scored 20 of his 30 points in the second half of last year’s first round game of the College Insider Tournament at Beeghly Center. YSU’s Kendrick Perry was even better, scoring 31 points in just his second game back from a knee injury as the Penguins won 99-87.
“It was a great game,” Perry said. “Great crowd. A lot of energy. It was about two highly offensive teams going at it. More specifically, everybody kind of focused in on the matchup between Bader and myself and we both competed and we were able to come out ahead.”
Whether it’s because he looks a little like former Duke standout Christian Laettner, or because YSU fans thought he got away with 10 uncalled fouls, Penguin fans grew to loathe Bader over the course of that game. (Fittingly, Bader’s Twitter handle is @DarthBader3.)
But Bader’s shooting has drawn comparisons to another former Duke player, J.J. Redick. Bader has made 450 career 3-pointers and needs just eight to surpass Redick’s NCAA record.
“You’ve got to make every opportunity tough for him,” Perry said. “With a guy like Bader, you know he’s gonna get his shots, especially with the system that they run. But my job as a defender — or whoever’s job it is as a defender — is to [contest] every catch he has. Just make him feel your presence on the defensive end.”
Oakland, which is in its first year in the Horizon League, was picked to finish fourth in the conference’s preseason poll, one spot ahead of YSU. (In case you’re wondering, yes, there were a few people in YSU’s program miffed about that.)
Bader was also a preseason first team all-conference pick, but when YSU coach Jerry Slocum was asked if he’s one of the best players in the league, Slocum simply said, “One of the best shooters.”
The Grizzlies (8-14, 3-4) have struggled a bit, losing seven straight during a brutal non-conference schedule (at one point they played North Carolina, UCLA, Cal and Gonzaga over a nine-day stretch) before regrouping.
“That was the hardest stretch of anybody in college basketball,” Slocum said.
Oakland is sixth in the Horizon League standings and needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat last-place UIC (5-16, 0-7) last week.
“I think Oakland’s finding out that the balance of this league is what makes the Horizon League so very special,” Slocum said.
While Bader is third in the league in scoring at 19.1 points per game, the Grizzlies have a good post player in junior Corey Petros (14 points per game and a league-leading 8.4 rebounds per game) and a developing point guard in freshman Kahlil Felder (a league-best 5.4 assists per game).
YSU counters with the league’s leading scorer in Perry (20.8 per game) and the league’s top offense (78.8 per game), while Oakland has the league’s worst defense, giving up 76.6 per game.
Consequently, Slocum is expecting a shootout.
“Somewhere out there, our fast break might break out,” Slocum said, chuckling. “I think these are two of the best offensive teams in the league, going head to head.
“In this game, I look for maybe a little bit more scoring than you usually see in the Horizon League.”