Sally contributes to YSU victories

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo YSU's John Sally, rear, traps Detroit's Marquis Moore in Saturday’s game.

YOUNGSTOWN — John Sally Jr., looked up and saw his coach, Jerrod Calhoun, motion to him.

The last thing Sally expected with 6:19 left in the first half Thursday night against Oakland was for his No. 50 to be called during the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team’s game.

He stepped on the floor and didn’t really have a case of nerves. He’s been doing well the past two weeks during practice. This time was bound to come, and it came with his team down by six at the time.

Sally, a 6-foot-11, 256-pounder, was feeling queasy. Despite that grumbling, he had a couple points and blocks before halftime, helping YSU cut the Oakland lead to two at a couple of points.

He had plenty of energy, but that momentum was diminished as he left the floor and headed to the locker room at the O’rena. Sally vomited.

At the pregame meal about four hours prior to tipoff, he had eaten a potato which was much larger than a normal-sized potato. That accounted for the queasiness.

He was exhausted and didn’t know if he’d make it back out for the second half. Teammates Justin Bofenkamp and Geoff Hamperian stepped in and looked at Sally.

“I came back in after Bof and G came and got me hyped up again,” Sally said. “I was like, ‘I’m ready. Let’s do this.'”

He contributed six points and two rebounds in the second half and finished with a career high for him at YSU in a one-point win at Oakland.

Sally gave the Penguins a much-needed presence around the basket and didn’t let Oakland’s Brad Brechting (6-11, 217), dominate YSU, like he does most of the Horizon League. He was held to one offensive rebound in the second half.

“I don’t think he knew what I was capable of doing when I came in,” Sally said. “He was like probably, ‘Oh, he’s probably in to give someone else a break.’ I think that might have caught him off guard a little bit.”

Sally’s offense is good with a move to his chest, head and then out of his hands toward the basket on 6-to-8-foot jump shots.

“That’s something I’ve always done with my jump shot, one motion,” Sally said. “When I was in high school one of coaches was trying to help me with it. You have to do it all in one motion so it’s smooth. If you break it up, it’s not going to work. So I find that’s the easiest way to shoot it.”

His 16 points and six rebounds in wins at Oakland and Detroit helped lift the Penguins (8-16, 4-7 Horizon League) to within a half-game of eighth-place Milwaukee, which YSU plays host to on Thursday at 7 p.m.

Calhoun said the intangibles Sally contributed in the last two games helped YSU succeed on the road. Sally even had a key rebound off of a Detroit 3-point miss with 10 seconds left to help seal that win.

“He challenged so many shots at the rim that that type of thing goes unnoticed,” Calhoun said after the two-point Detroit win. “We played a defense I never played.”

If he doesn’t start Thursday, that’s OK. Sally just wants the Penguins win streak to reach three.

“I think I’m going to try to help my other teammates get better, even if that puts me in a position where I can’t start,” Sally said. “I want to make sure we’re all good and that we’re able to play.”

If his number is called, you can bet he’ll be ready — and there won’t be a giant potato in his pregame meal.

“Never again. I can’t do that again,” Sally laughed.