Defense lifts Penguins past UIC, 59-56

YOUNGSTOWN – The old adage goes that defense wins championships.

Saturday, defense was the catalyst in Youngstown State’s narrow escape against the Horizon League’s last-place team, UIC, 59-56.

It started after Kendrick Perry, who led the Penguins (14-13, 5-7 Horizon League) with 31 points, hit two free throws to put the Penguins up by three with 2:44 remaining.

UIC (5-12, 0-12) proceeded to miss its next five shots. Pat Birt, who had 15 points, and Kelsey Barlow, who had 17, failed to connect on two triples and Hayden Humes’ putback was off as well in three straight tries on one possession, leading to the five straight misses.

“In no stretch did I think it was pretty, but I thought we guarded exceptionally well,” said YSU coach Jerry Slocum, whose team ended a four-game losing streak. “When your offense leaves you like it has for us over the last couple of games, you really have to be good at the defensive end.

“I thought we were really good for 40 minutes defensively.”

Perry proceeded to hit two more free throws with 25 seconds remaining to give YSU a 56-51 lead.

Then, the Flames ended their shooting woes – a team that shot 35 percent in the second half – with what seemed to be a Barlow 3. After the officials reviewed the replay, it was clear that Barlow stepped on the 3-point line. UIC trailed 56-53.

That would prove crucial as Shawn Amiker made one of two from the foul line, missing the back end.

The Flames rushed down the floor and Barlow kept his feet behind the line to can another 3 as UIC trailed 57-56 with 1.7 seconds remaining.

Perry had the ball in his hands once again and was fouled. The YSU senior capped his night with two more free throws for the final score.

It was a game where YSU shot 36 percent from the floor – 55 in the second half

“If you told me we could win the game while shooting 36 percent, I’d probably laugh at you,” Perry said. “We locked down defensively.

“Defense was really our staple tonight.”

UIC took a 3 at the buzzer, but the shot went wide of the basket and wouldn’t of counted since the buzzer went off before it left the shooter’s hands.

YSU was eight of nine from the line in the last 9 minutes. The Penguins were 12 of 21 from the charity stripe prior to that.

The Penguins’ shooting woes started early and often. They shot 21 percent in the first half and was down by as much as 11 in the first 20 minutes – 23-11 on Birt’s 3 with 7:21 before intermission.

That’s when YSU relied on 6-foot-10 sophomore Bobby Hain to man up against the battering and bruising Flames, who controlled the slow, methodical, half-court tempo for most of the game.

Hain ended up with eight points and nine rebounds at halftime and eventually had 14 points and career-high 17 rebounds.

This was a YSU team coming off a 71-40 loss to Green Bay on Thursday, shooting 32 percent.

“We knew tonight our shots weren’t falling, but we just relied on our defense,” Hain said. “I feel we did a good job holding them to 35 percent in the second half.”

Add to that Kamren Belin’s play. He may have scored four points, but what he did to help hold UIC to less than 40 percent from the floor was invaluable, Slocum said.

“I think Kam covered up for a lot of our errors on the defensive end,” Slocum said.

Fitting enough, the night of YSU’s defense was capped by Perry grabbing the career steals mark in the Horizon League with 238.

“Defense is something I really take very seriously, a lot more than my offense,” Perry said. “To be able to be the leader in Horizon League steals is a tremendous honor for me.”

UPDATE ON RYAN WEBER: YSU 6-6 sophomore forward Ryan Weber had the bridge of his nose broken during last Monday’s practice.

“He just got hit. It was part of practice,” Slocum said.

Weber, who averages 11.4 points per game and leads the team in 3-point percentage (40.3), is questionable for Thursday’s home game against Milwaukee.

“Hopefully we’ll get Ryan back for the end of next week,” Slocum said.

Slocum added Weber is slated to see a doctor this week, possibly Tuesday.

Weber was questionable for Thursday’s Green Bay game, but played. He didn’t during Saturday’s UIC contest.

“He had to get it set. We thought he could play,” Slocum said. “It was more than what they thought.”