YOUNGSTOWN - Kent State basketball coach Rob Senderoff says every game is a challenge. Tonight's contest is no exception.
"I think it's the best team they've had there in a while," Senderoff said. "Their guard play is great. Their post play is good. They're very, very good."
He and the Golden Flashes will get a first-hand look at the Penguins tonight when they travel to Beeghly Center. Tipoff is at 7:05 p.m.
For the Penguins, it starts with a pair of guards - senior Blake Allen and junior Kendrick Perry. Both average in double figures with Perry leading the team with 17.7 points per outing - tied for second in the Horizon League with Loyola's Ben Averkamp.
"They're multidimensional guards," said Senderoff, whose team is 4-2. "Both pass it well. Both shoot it well. They can create their shot at any time. Any time they shoot it, I'm not saying every shot is a good shot, but every shot they take is a good shot. They can create their own shots at any point. They're very good, both of them are very good."
Then, there is 6-foot-8 Damian Eargle, the Warren G. Harding graduate who became the school's all-time leading shot blocker last week.
"Damian is a good shot blocker. He's a good offensive rebounder," Senderoff said.
The YSU (3-3) starting five rounds out with 6-7 forward Kamren Belin and 6-5 guard Shawn Amiker. Four of the five Penguin starter s average in double figures, while Amiker is on the cusp with 9.2 per game.
"I look at their starters and every one of them is very, very good," Senderoff said. "Each one of them, it's not like you can't guard one of them - they're all really, really good.
"This is going to be a heckuva challenge for us for sure."
The Golden Flashes had their share of obstacles to overcome as well.
KSU won Saturday at Nebraska. It was the Golden Flashes' first road win against a Big Ten team since 1970.
"Unfortunately it doesn't carry over to this game," Senderoff said. "The next game is a new game. We'll have to play incredibly well to have a chance to stay in the game there."
YSU coach Jerry Slocum said it's going to be a challenge for the Penguins to hold down KSU's 6-8 forward Chris Evans (17.2 points, 7.2 rebounds per game) and 6-1 guard Randal Holt with 15.2 per outing.
"I think everybody thought they were taking a step back with the kind of kids that they lost," Slocum said. "They had a great one against Nebraska the other night. This is a very, very physical team. They've got two tremendous players in Holt and Evans. This is a very good team that we're going to play (tonight), a team that has good depth and good physical strength. We've got our hands full. It's a challenge."
YSU faced a challenge last week, playing three games in three days in the Legends Classic at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. YSU was edged in the first two games by North Dakota State and James Madison before being beat by Duquesne.
"I don't think we've played bad," Slocum said. "I don't want to give the impression we've lost three in a row by playing terrible basketball. It's a fine line between winning and losing.
"I think we're good enough to be in every single game we play. The bottom line is you're going to have to play every position, especially in big moments. That's what we as a group, we as a coaching staff, me personally, have taken out of that three-game trip."
Last week is a distant memory, Eargle said.
"You have to have a fast memory loss when it comes to that," he said.
One thing YSU does have to remember is to be cognizant of Holt and Randal and boxing out.
"We have to rebound the ball against them or we don't have a chance," Slocum said. "This is a team that is dominated by their two best and we have to do a good job on their guys."
IN THE CROWD: Tonight is YSU's second home game of the season. Slocum said the KSU game usually brings a decent turnout.
"We know this is going to be our best crowd we'll have first semester," he said. "Every year it seems like we get the middle of January on. If we're playing good, we do pretty well in terms of crowds. Historically, this has been a fun night for us because it's been a good opponent, team that's historically one of the best teams in the MAC and our people enjoy seeing the game.
"Our team has worked hard. They deserve people to come out because of the fact that ... I think we're good and they work hard."
It's also a game Eargle relates to, being from this area.
"Those games are rival school games for me, especially being from Youngstown," he said. "We've beaten Cleveland State. But me personally, I've never beaten Akron or Kent. It's a real rivalry for me. I'm sure everybody will be out here supporting their teams. It's a real big deal."
BENCH PLAY: YSU has got less than six points in three of its last four games from the non-starters.
"I think that's more me than the kids right now," Slocum said. "They've played significant minutes in all of our games. You maybe get a turnover or not know where you should exactly be. When you're in tough, tough ballgames, every possession matters. I need to have a little bit of patience with those guys, let those guys find their way. D.J., Ryan (Weber) and Bobby Hain. Those guys have shown they can play at this level. It's important we give them that opportunity."
Getting more bench play is helpful to the YSU starters.
"You see Cleveland State, they sub five in and five out," Eargle said. "Our endurance, we can run forever. But there comes a time when your body wears down. He's doing a good job subbing. Bobby is helping us out tremendously. Bobby is doing good, giving us a little more playing time. Everybody is having a little more playing time. They're feeling more comfortable on the court doing what they do. It's a good thing."