YSU looks back on its second straight winning season

It’s been almost three decades since the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team had this kind of success.

The Penguins put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since Mike Rice, Sr., led YSU to two straight winning marks in the 1983-84 and ’84-85 seasons.

YSU posted a 16-15 mark in the 2011-12 season, after an 11-year drought of not getting above .500.

This season, the Penguins finished 18-16 and made it to the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

“It was a really, really good season for us,” YSU junior guard Kendrick Perry said. “I wouldn’t say it was a great season as far as our record, but it was a really good stepping stone.”

YSU finished the season with a CIT first-round win against Oakland and a second-round overtime loss against Canisius – averaging 90.5 points in both games.

The Penguins wanted this offensive explosion in the last month of the season, but injuries to Perry and forward Damian Eargle hurt YSU’s chances in the Horizon League.

“Life is what it is,” YSU coach Jerry Slocum said. “I honestly felt if Damian and KP had been healthy the last four to five weeks, I thought we had something special at the end of the year. I believe our league, at times, has a tough time scoring. I thought that the way we were playing near the end of the year and it showed in postseason play. We had the opportunity to peak at the end. Injuries didn’t allow that to happen, but I thought we played two really good games against Canisius and against Oakland.

“Obviously, a couple of things didn’t go right for us in that Canisius game. I thought offensively we were special at the end of the year. We just didn’t have all the pieces together.”

YSU loses two seniors in 6-foot guard Blake Allen – a 3-point specialist – and the Horizon League’s all-time best shot blocker in Damian Eargle.

“You’ve got two kids that were very special in their own right,” Slocum said. “Blake was a great 3-point shooter, had a knack to be a momentum-shifting guy. He could really put a lot of points on you in a hurry. It will take us a large group effort to produce his points.

“Damian has a gift from a special player in terms of his ability to block shots, to change the game in terms of the defensive end. Both of those guys had tremendous careers here. Both of those guys are on track to graduate. They are what’s good about college basketball.”

YSU has two more scholarships available for next season.

“We’re looking to bring in the best possible wing we can get and trying to get the best possible big we can get, which would be a power forward or another big,” Slocum said.

The Penguins have had a couple of prospective athletes on campus.

“We’ve had a couple of visits and we have a couple visits coming up here in the next couple of weeks,” Slocum said.

The late signing period is in mid April, but the Penguins had one player sign in the early period – mid November. Marcus Keene, a 5-9, 165-pound point guard from San Antonio, Texas, averaged 25 points per game for Warren High School.

“Marcus had a great year,” Slocum said. “Marcus lived up to everything we saw in him in the recruiting process. He’s a very gifted offensive guard, can play the point, has a real second speed to him with the ball. He’ll really fit into what we do offensively. Great 3-point shooter. He’s had a really solid senior year. We’re excited about him.”

Slocum is excited about the potential of 6-10 freshman center Bobby Hain, 5-11 sophomore guard D.J. Cole and 6-6 freshman forward Ryan Weber to name a few.

“I think our basketball future is very bright,” Slocum said. “We’ve got guys that are coming back, that are very committed to Youngstown State, working hard and giving a great effort during the summer.

“I’m excited about where we’re going.”

The YSU coach is excited about Perry, the Penguins leading scorer, and his growth the past couple of seasons.

“KP is the kind of a guy we’ve made a commitment to three years ago when we basically changed our recruiting process up, going for freshmen and kids that can shoot the basketball,” Slocum said.

“KP has come to us and blossomed. He literally gets better monthly. I think he’s a player of the year candidate for our league. He does so many things well. He’s the most complete player in our league this year. When you add in defense, passing the basketball, scoring the basketball. We’re obviously excited about his senior year with us.”

Watching this year’s NCAA Tournament and the success of mid-majors like Wichita State and Florida Gulf Coast has given Perry the fuel for next season.

“I’m going to use that to consistently motivate my guys throughout the season next year,” he said. “That can be us the whole nation is talking about.”