With starting forward Damian Eargle out from a broken nose, Youngstown State University rallied to beat the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 94-80, with aggressive play.
“When the ball moves like that and finds the open man, that’s when your shooting percentages go up,” said head coach Jerry Slocum.
Freshman Bobby Hain filled in for Eargle, starting for the third time this season. Slocum said Eargle will warm the bench again on Sunday but is confident that the senior forward’s replacement can fill his shoes against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“Bobby might be the best offensive big, as a freshman, that I’ve ever coached,” Slocum said. “That dude’s just got gifts.”
Slocum called Green Bay “one of the most talented teams in the league,” adding that Eargle was an important defensive tool the last time the Penguins faced the Phoenix.
“We’ve got out work cut out for us, and within less than 48 hours,” he said.
Slocum added that YSU will compensate by giving the other forwards more playing time.
“We’ll play like we did tonight,” he said.
Sophomore guard DJ Cole said the team’s defense suffered without Eargle, but he and his teammates were able to pull together for the win.
“We don’t have a shot blocker down there,” Cole said. “We don’t have Dame down there to help us, so we just gotta play better on-ball defense.”
Cole scored 18 points against the Panthers, a career-high. He said the team succeeded by keeping the ball in motion.
“We made the extra pass every time tonight, and that’s why we got so many open shots,” he said.
“That means your team is sharing the ball and on top of that, you out rebounded them,” Slocum said.
Slocum expects a bright future for Cole.
“He’s come a long way from averaging three minutes a night last year to a great summer,” Slocum said. “I have high expectations for him for leadership, for getting guys involved.”
The victory marked the second year since joining the Horizon League in 2001 that the Penguins have won 15 or more games in a season.
Slocum said the team deserves a measure of pride but tempered it with realism.
“Obviously we’re not done yet. We’ve got a lot of basketball to be played,” Slocum said.
Three of the Penguins’ next four games are against the conference’s top teams.
But that didn’t dampen Cole’s spirits, fresh off a decisive victory.
“We just gotta come in and play with the same intensity we played tonight and just don’t let up and we should be fine,” Cole said.