YOUNGSTOWN - Damian Eargle looked at the mask in front of him with a little trepidation.
"It's kind of itchy," said the Youngstown State University senior center of the clear, protective mask he has to wear.
Eargle, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound Warren G. Harding High School graduate, took an elbow to the face during the third overtime of YSU's Feb. 10 home loss to UIC.
"I was going for the ball and he just hit me," Eargle said. "He didn't do it intentionally. He was trying to get some space. It broke both sides of my nose. The first day they didn't do much, they gave me some pills.
"Besides that, I had surgery and I feel a lot better that I'm back."
He had surgery earlier this week on his broken nose.
"It still hurts a little bit. I got the mask, so I just have to play through it," Eargle said.
His first practice back was Wednesday.
"They didn't want me to do much since I had surgery three days ago," Eargle said. "I'm happy to be back, though."
YSU coach Jerry Slocum welcomes Eargle back into the lineup where he averages 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Most importantly, he averages 3.28 blocks per game - sixth in the nation.
"It just makes us better," Slocum said. "Defensively, he's one of the best defenders in our league. His shot blocking speaks for itself. We're a better basketball team clearly at the defensive end of the floor when he's there.
"It'll be good to have a couple days of practice and see how ready he is going to be."
This is the first time Eargle has had an major injury that has kept him out of any games. YSU beat Milwaukee on Friday and lost to Green Bay on Sunday in his absence.
"I hate watching, but when you're winning it makes a lot better," Eargle said. "I love seeing my team, especially the freshmen do good, get some time in and some experience
"I could tell the second game they needed me a little bit. It kind of hurt that I wasn't out there."
Now, Eargle has to get used to playing with a mask the first time he's had to play it.
"As soon as I get used to shooting and running around with it, I should be fine," he said.
Slocum has had previous players who have worn the protective mask.
"I think it's more of getting used to," Slocum said. "The first time you put the thing on it is an uncomfortable feeling. Three good days of practice it'll be more comfortable. I'm not sure how long he'll have to wear it.
"Hopefully it will be a week kind of things and he'll be back into it. There's a lot of guys that have worn it and got accustomed to it and feel more comfortable with it because of the fear of it being re-injured. We'll have to see how it goes."
It shouldn't hinder Eargle from starting in Saturday's home finale against Central Michigan, which is senior night.
"I better start senior night. I'm planning on starting, major minutes," Eargle said.