YOUNGSTOWN -- Kendrick Perry settles for nothing less than perfection. Even though he's the preseason Horizon League Player of the Year and the league's leading scorer, he knows his contributions fuel the Youngstown State men's basketball team.
The 6-foot senior guard averages more than 20 points per game, but the points he gets from the foul line can be the ultimate factor in a win or a loss.
And that's what happened Thursday night when the Penguins lost to Valparaiso - their only setback during YSU's recent four-game homestand.
Perry saw his team lose its luster from the first half of the Valparaiso game where the Penguins held a nine-point halftime lead.
The ultimate downfall was YSU's inability to box out the Valpo big men, being dominated on the boards, points in the paint and second-chance points.
The Crusaders forced a half-court game, something that's a staple in Horizon League play. It's a place where the Penguins are not as fluent. YSU thrives in a transition-oriented game, hence the reason the Penguins have one of the most high-powered offenses in the Horizon League, averaging 79 points per outing.
That said, the free throws, especially the way three of YSU's games have played out, have been quite crucial.
Ask Perry, who shot 2 of 8 from the foul line against Valpo. As great senior leaders do, he took responsibility for his poor free-throw shooting.
Friday and Saturday, Perry spent all of his time in the gym shooting nothing but free throws. No jump shots, lay-ups or 3-point shots. Not even a just-for-fun-half-court shot. All business. All free throws.
He was 10 of 13 from the charity stripe in a 68-67 win Saturday over Wright State.
"My teammates can vouch for me. (Friday and Saturday), I didn't shoot anything other than free throws," Perry said. "As you can see in games like this, they're truly important. Ten of 13 free throws. I still missed three free throws. It's a work in progress. You got to credit my coaches and teammates. They told me to stay confident, stay relaxed. Luckily, I was able to get back into the rhythm."
YSU was able to shed its bad second-half performance against Valpo to rally for a victory over Wright State. The Penguins won three of their four games during the homestand and four of their last five.
Now, fourth-place YSU (13-9, 4-3) must go on the road starting Friday at Oakland, Feb. 5 at Wright State and Feb. 9 at Detroit before returning for a three-game homestand.
If the Penguins want to continue its recent success, they must hone their half-court skills and keep up their defensive pressure. Things won't be as easy as a fast-break opportunity, but hard work, like the example Perry showed to his teammates through his free-throw shooting, will carry YSU going forward. It may not ultimately translate into victories away from the Beeghly Center, but it will give the Penguins a fighting chance in the future.