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Blast from the past

Former Penguins recall ’12-13 CIT

DJ Cole banked in a runner with 2.5 seconds remaining for a two-point win over Loyola (Chicago), formerly of the Horizon League and now a Missouri Valley Conference team.

The sixth-seeded Youngstown State University men’s basketball team improved to 16-15.

Former YSU coach Jerry Slocum put it best when he talked about that game during this 2012-13 season.

“I’m really, really, really proud of our guys,” said Slocum after that March 5, 2013 win (62-60). “What we’ve been through the last three weeks, coming off our worst effort of the year on Saturday (in a Horizon League quarterfinal loss to Wright State), to bounce back and to fight and play like that was just a tremendous win for us, and a tremendous game of character for our guys.

“I thought they responded to every challenge. We got down early in the second half. We did hurry. We talked about being patient. I’m extremely proud of them. I thought it was Damian Eargle’s best game of the semester. I thought he was a defensive difference in the game, and I thought he played under control offensively. It was a really, really solid performance by our guys.”

Hosting a first-round Horizon League game was something neat for this team, said Danny Reese, a Cardinal Mooney High School graduate. Reese played on this team and is YSU’s current director of player personnel.

“It was cool that year to host a league game,” Reese said. “We had a little bit of a feel about what to expect for a tournament game to be at the Beeghly Center.”

Their 18-16 mark was the most wins for YSU since the 2000-01 season, when John Robic, current assistant coach at the University of Kentucky, mentored the Penguins to a 19-11 record. Only the NCAA Tournament and National Invitation Tournament were postseason options at that time.

This 2012-13 team had the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, better known as the CIT, in its future.

It was the first time the Penguins were in the postseason since the 1976-77 team was in the NCAA Division II Tournament.

“I remember us coming together down the stretch, being focused and really wanting to make a push toward the end of the year to make some noise,” said Blake Allen, who surpassed 1,000 points in a 99-87 win over Oakland and scored 27 points in the first round of the CIT.

“I remember a different level of focus.”

This year’s YSU team is in the CIT for the first time since that 2012-13 season, posting an 18-15 mark so far. However, this year’s CIT first-round game will not be played in front of fans due to precautions taken by YSU because of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Nothing will take away the experience the 2012-13 team had making that CIT, beating Oakland in a first-round game. This was a year before Oakland took Loyola’s place, leaving the Summit League for the Horizon League.

“We were all pretty excited making the postseason for the first time,” Cole said. “I remember us being pretty excited. We were kind of nervous. At the same time, it was excitement because we were doing something for the first time in school history. It was good to have that.”

Oakland’s Travis Bader, who finished his career with the most 3-pointers made and attempted in NCAA history in 2014, had 30 points against YSU — going 5-of-11 from 3.

“You get the scouting report and you know he can really shoot,” Allen said. “When you’re out there with him, you realize he can really, really shoot like elite, elite level. It was definitely a challenge.

“He played well, but fortunately we knocked down some shots on our end.”

Eargle, a Warren G. Harding graduate, said the Penguins had a great year in 2012-13. It had its ups and downs with winning at George Washington and Georgia to start the season, but YSU lost its next four games. It was a virtual roller coaster all season.

With a few games left in the regular season, leading scorer and then-junior guard Kendrick Perry suffered a knee injury. He was out and on crutches.

Perry had 31 points against Oakland in his return. He now plays overseas for Mega Bemax located in Belgrade, Serbia.

“Mentally was the biggest thing for me,” said Perry in a news conference prior to that 2013 Oakland game. “Physically, when I went out and played, everything was fine. I felt kind of near myself again.”

Eargle set the Horizon League and YSU record for blocked shots. The 6-foot-7 center seemed to play like he was taller than 7-0 with his long arms.

YSU lost to Canisius in the second round of the CIT. Both games were at the Beeghly Center.

“We were doing good for the most part, but during the season you have your ups and downs,” Eargle said. “Overall, it was one of the best.

“It was a good season. I wish it could’ve lasted longer.”

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