YOUNGSTOWN – Kendrick Perry might stand 6-feet tall, but his play Monday night made him stand out like a 7-footer among a bunch of kindergartners.
The Youngstown State University men’s basketball senior guard found a slight crease in the once-stout Cleveland State defense in the second half and made it look like the Grand Canyon.
Perry drove from the top of the key and slashed by an unsuspecting 6-6 Marlin Mason. Perry drew the foul and finished the up and under move with layup and free throw with 26.4 seconds remaining – giving the Penguins a 67-66 lead and the win at the Beeghly Center.
CSU coach Gary Waters compared Perry to a current Miami Heat and former Viking player.
“He’s the best player in our league,” Waters said. “Right now, he’s of the Norris Cole kind of caliber in the league at this time.”
Anton Grady’s jumper with 8 seconds left was partially blocked by YSU’s Bobby Hain, who later grabbed the rebound, but Hain, who had 10 points, lost his footing and traveled. Grady was held to nine points and seven turnovers.
With 5 seconds remaining, Bryn Forbes, who had a team-high 17 points, launched a 3-pointer from the left corner – only to be heavily guarded by Perry. The ball fell well short of the basket.
“This is really where our defense has to kick in,” said Perry, who had a game-high 31 points – including YSU’s final 12. “Even though they called the travel, we were able to get a good quality stop in this game.”
YSU coach Jerry Slocum, whose team is 11-8, 2-2 in the Horizon League, was pleased with Perry’s all-around game.
“As good as he was at the offensive end, he was just as special defensively right at the end,” Slocum said.
Trey Lewis, who had 15 points, didn’t miss his 3 with 1:34 left, giving CSU (10-8, 2-2) a 66-64 lead.
It seemed insurmountable at the time as Ryan Weber, who had 10 points, misfired on a 3 about 20 seconds later. The Vikings seemed to have control of the game.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Lewis traveled. Perry then was fouled by Mason, who had 10 points, on his way to the basket. This time Perry made two free throws to cut the CSU advantage to 66-64.
Lewis took the inbounds pass under YSU’s basket, but accidentally stepped on the out-of-bounds line.
CSU committed a season-high 21 turnovers, compared to YSU’s 12.
“That’s a bad game for us today,” Waters said.
The Vikings’ didn’t make those same mistakes to start the second. In fact, CSU came out in the second half on a 9-2 run to take a lead it would enjoy for a majority of the final 20 minutes.
Perry had 19 points at halftime, seemingly en route to smashing his career-best of 34 set in 2012 against North Dakota State.
CSU’s Sebastain Douglas put the clamps on Perry to start the second half, holding him scoreless until a three-point play with 6:06 remaining, cutting the CSU lead to 61-58.
“(I was) just being physical, because he can score at any moment, shoot it, drive it,” Douglas said. “Just running him off his line, pushing him off his spot, making him uncomfortable, keeping a hand in his face.
“We didn’t play team defense on him in the end and he got loose. He’s a good player.”
Perry wasn’t fazed.
“Throughout the game, I tried to stay confident. I tried to stay calm,” he said.
YSU had trouble in the first half as well, committing a couple of turnovers in the first 3 minutes as CSU rolled to a 7-0 lead.
Slocum said his team showed great resilience in the first and second halves.
“In the second half, we stopped moving,” he said. “In the first half, we peppered it around. They guard you so well. If you hold it, they’re going to stop you. I thought we never gave up.
“I thought our guys showed great character tonight.”
As for Perry, this arguably could be the best game of his career.
“As a senior, knowing this is your last ride, this is a huge win for me personally, and for the program,” Perry said.
HE SAID, HE SAID: Waters said his team’s inept play in the second half, especially the 21 turnovers, led to the Vikings downfall. He didn’t give the Penguins credit for any stops.
“We just gave the game away,” Waters said. “We gave it away in 2 minutes. We turned the ball over in the last four possessions, three out of four times. We should have never have done that. It’s uncalled for. We’re better than that.
“They didn’t create any turnover we made. We did it on our own.”
Slocum, who was told of what Waters said, was quick to respond.
“That’s disappointing,” Slocum said. “We always give credit to our opponents, whether it was a hard-fought game, close game or whatever. You’ll never hear that kind of talk out of my mouth. I’ll always say give our opponents credit.
“If that’s true, that’s disappointing.”
NEXT GAME: YSU hosts Detroit Saturday at 7:05 p.m. The Penguins women host Milwaukee in the first half of this women-men doubleheader. That game starts at 4:35 p.m.