By Joe Scalzo
On Saturday night, Youngstown State celebrated arguably the best player in school history, then got victimized by the best shooter in Horizon League history.
Grizzlies senior Travis Bader scored 23 of his 33 points in the second half and YSU’s defense decided to take Senior Night off, falling to Oakland, 87-81, in a regular-season finale at Beeghly Center.
“Very disappointed in our performance, as disappointed as I’ve been since I’ve been here,” YSU’s ninth-year coach Jerry Slocum said. “It’s a hard one to take.”
Kendrick Perry scored 30 points with eight assists and five rebounds for the Penguins (15-16, 6-10), who will play at Oakland on Tuesday night in a first-round Horizon League tournament game.
“At this point, obviously, you have a rough feeling in the back of your mind,” Perry said. “I know these guys are going to remember tonight as much as I do. With that, we’re going to be ready to go on Tuesday.”
The game stayed close until the final minutes, with Perry making a jumper to cut the YSU deficit to 80-77 with 90 seconds left. Bader then missed a 3-pointer, but Corey Petros (who terrorized YSU all night) grabbed the rebound and the Penguins were forced to foul.
Bader hit two free throws with 33 seconds left and Duke Mondy stole Shawn Amiker’s inbounds pass, forcing Perry to foul. Mondy made both free throws to, essentially, end the suspense.
When asked what they need to do better on Tuesday, Perry said, “Well, we can’t let them score 87 points, I know that.”
Bader, the NCAA’s career leader in 3-pointers, was 6 of 13 from behind the arc, hitting four straight at one point in the game’s final 10 minutes.
“He’s obviously a great shooter,” Slocum said. “We had some major breakdowns. Went underneath screens instead of trailing him like we talk all the time.
“Obviously, he got in rhythm and made some big shots.”
Still, for all of Bader’s points, it was the 6-foot-10 Petros who did the most damage against the Penguins, scoring 23 points (on 11 of 14 shooting) with 13 rebounds.
“He killed us tonight,” Slocum said.
Bobby Hain had 15 points and eight rebounds for YSU, which has lost seven of its last nine games. Ryan Weber had 13 points, Amiker scored 12 and DJ Cole had 11.
Kamren Belin, one of four players honored on senior night, went scoreless in 17 minutes, shooting 0 for 6. Mike Podolsky, a Canfield High graduate, and Josh Chojnacki started alongside Perry and Belin but combined to play just six minutes.
YSU drew 4,392 fans — its second-biggest crowd of the season — and passed out replica T-shirts of Perry’s No. 3 jersey. His performance clinched his second Horizon League scoring title in three years — his 20.9 points per game edged Green Bay’s Keifer Sykes (20.4) — and his five rebounds gave him 502 for his career. He’s also two assists away from 500 and five steals from 250.
With a win, Youngstown State would have hosted Oakland in the Horizon League tournament’s first round and had a much better chance of qualifying for a postseason tournament like last year’s CollegeInsider.com tournament.
Instead, YSU fans are left wondering if Saturday’s game was Perry’s last at Beeghly Center.
Perry may have wondered the same thing. After the game ended, he walked to midcourt, dropped to the floor and kissed the Pete the Penguin logo.
If this was goodbye, at least he went out with a kiss.
A win would have been better.