The Youngstown State University basketball teams concluded their seasons after being eliminated in the early portion of the Horizon League tournament.
The men’s team began its tournament at Beeghly Center on Feb. 28, defeating the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay 77-60.
It traveled to Valparaiso University and faced the University of Detroit Mercy on Friday, falling 93-76.
The Penguins trailed by 16 at halftime and fought their way back in the early part of the second half. They trailed by 10 at one point, but were unable to break the threshold.
“By the time we could play, it just got out of control,” said junior forward Damian Eargle after the game. “We just didn’t want to embarrass our fans and our organization. We just gave it our all.”
Head coach Jerry Slocum said the bond the team members shared goes beyond the scoreboard.
“They had a tremendous year in terms of effort — in terms of caring for each other,” Slocum said. “That’s as close of a group that I’ve been around in a long, long, long time. I enjoyed being with them.”
The Penguins finished 16-15 overall and 10-8 in the conference. It was their first winning season since the 2000-2001 season under John Robic (19-11), one year before joining the HL.
It was also Slocum’s first winning season since his start in 2005. His previous best was 14-17 in the 2006-2007 season.
“I’m very proud of this group in terms of what they accomplished,” Slocum said. “Getting 10 wins in the Horizon League is something that they can kind of hang their hat on.”
Sophomore Kendrick Perry was named to the HL first team, and Eargle received all-defense honors.
Eargle said the leadership from seniors Ashen Ward and DuShawn Brooks drove the team.
“We did so much this year,” Eargle said. “If it wasn’t for them, we would probably not be in the position that we are right now.”
As for the women, they lost at Cleveland State University on Monday, 59-56, in the first round of the HL tournament.
The Penguins had three opportunities to tie the game with 8.9 seconds remaining. Sophomore Monica TouVelle, junior Brandi Brown and freshman Heidi Schlegel missed 3-point shots to end the season.
After the game, head coach Bob Boldon said it was a bittersweet ending.
“There’s one side of me that’s very frustrated,” Boldon said. “There’s another side of me that’s very proud. These kids hung in there. They’re resilient kids, they’ve been through a lot, they’ve been through coaching changes and philosophy changes.”
The Penguins finished the season 10-20 overall and 4-14 in the HL. They had the same HL record last season, but four more wins overall. The team is two years removed from a 0-30 overall record.
“Things went pretty well overall this season,” said senior guard Kenya Middlebrooks. “I’m proud to be on the team, I’m proud to have [Boldon] as my coach for two years.”
Middlebrooks was one of three seniors on the team alongside Macey Nortey and Tieara Jones.
“I think they were good examples to our younger kids, and I thought they handled change incredibly well,” Boldon said.
Boldon added that Middlebrooks’ transition from her junior to senior year has been remarkable.
“It’s something that we will continue to use,” he said. “She doesn’t know this, but it’s something we’ll be able to use for recruiting for years to come. Ken’s ability to get to the rim this year was fantastic.”
Boldon also talked about Nortey and Jones.
“Macey went from a negative assists to turnover ratio to leading the conference in assists to turnover ratio,” Boldon said. “I thought Tieara was the epitome of a team player.”
One player Boldon is
excited to see return next year is Brown, even though he
said she finished the season
on a bad note.
“Brandi’s done so much for us since I got here, and I think it got to her,” Boldon said. “I think as the season wore down she just started to get fatigued. She’ll never tell you that. For the last two weeks, she’s been a little bit less explosive than she’s been all year.”