The Horizon League tournament entered the quarterfinal round on Friday night, with the first game featuring Detroit against Youngstown State. One of the more controversial aspects of the HL tournament, but one in which I think they do it right, is the double-bye that is awarded to the league's top two teams. That format, along with the schedule likely mandated by the Sports Leader Overlords, requires the quarter-finals and the semi-finals to be held on back-to-back days, which in turn requires the games on those two days to be held at the same site for logistical purposes. The downside to that is that the Friday games are held at the home arena of the league champion who by definition has a bye during that day. This leads to some rather sparse crowds for the most important game of the year for the teams involved. Every year, I always feel sympathy for those seniors whose careers come to an end under these peculiar circumstances.
I was pleased to see Pete and Penny Penguin on hand. They are always a fan favorite and you want to savor your opportunities to see them; their website states that "until further notice, YSU is not taking appearance requests for appearances by Pete and Penny". How sad. Maybe they hibernate when it isn't winter. Regardless, Youngstown State doesn't get many chances for wins in March, and so I'm sure they didn't want to miss this. In fact, a win here would give the school its first March victory since 2003.
Sadly for our Penguin friends, this contest was a mismatch from its earliest moments. Detroit hit twelve of its first fifteen shots, jumping out to leads of 21-7, and later 40-17. Senior center LaMarcus Lowe was particularly effective on the offensive end, which is not his usual strong suit. On the other end, the Titans used a halfcourt trap to disrupt the YSU sets, forcing several turnovers and bad shots. In my view, the Penguins did not run a highly effective offensive set until they were 14 minutes into the game, when Kendrick Perry hit a superhoop after a series of crisp passes. That shot merely cut the led to 18, which is indicative of the fact that YSU still had quite an uphill climb. The half ended with the Titans leading 50-34, although the officials had to pull both teams from the locker room for two YSU free throws after noting a last-second foul via a replay.
There is an interesting dynamic that takes place when one team ("Team A") jumps out to a large lead over another ("Team B"). The defensive pressure that Team A applied to attain the lead inevitably fades - an aggressive, forward-leaning stance is replaced with a more tentative, upright stance, which allows for drives to the basket to occur more easily, and for open shots to occur more frequently. This, along with some lack of sharpness offensively, will often allow Team B to cut into the lead, until such point as Team A takes notice that their lead is no longer quite so comfortable. When Team A responds with some scores of its own, the pressure shifts quickly back to Team B. Team B still needs to cut into the lead, and is running out of time to do so; without being able to at least trade baskets, it can quickly lose back all of the gains it previously had earned.
That often-seen generic scenario played out yet again at the beginning of the second half of this game. YSU put on a 9-3 run out of the break, cutting the lead to ten. Detroit came back from a timeout an pounded the ball inside - a Eli Holman miss was tipped in by Evan Bruinsma, and Ray McCallum scored on a lay-up leading to an old-fashioned three-point play. This opened up the perimeter for a three from Chase Simon, and back-to-back baskets by Donavan Foster. By that time, the lead was restored to the 16-point halftime margin, and the Penguins' spirit was essentially broken.
My spirit was briefly lifted when the YSU band belted out the great (and highly underrated) Journey song, "Separate Ways", during the last media timeout. Their band represented a large majority of Penguin fans in attendance (even with Pete and Penny included), and their enthusiasm and musical selections added some fun to an otherwise generally non-competitive contest.
Detroit advances to face Cleveland State in the first semi-final on Saturday, which should be an entertaining game. Youngstown State likely finishes its season with a 16-15 record, but credit should be given to Jerry Slocum and his staff for developing a much improved squad this season. They return considerable talent next year, and may be able to make next year be the March of the Penguins.
DETROIT 93, YOUNGSTOWN STATE 76 03/02/2012
YOUNGSTOWN STATE 16-15 (10-8) -- K. Perry 7-11 3-5 18; D. Brooks 6-12 4-4 19; D. Eargle 10-14 5-10 25; B. Allen 1-6 0-0 3; A. Ward 2-5 0-0 5; N. Perry 0-1 0-0 0; J. Amiker 0-0 0-2 0; J. Chojnacki 2-2 0-0 4; D. Cole 1-1 0-1 2; C. Morgan 0-0 0-0 0; M. Podolsky 0-0 0-0 0; D. Reese 0-1 0-0 0; C. Zuiker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-53 12-22 76. DETROIT 20-13 (11-7) -- R. McCallum 7-12 6-6 22; D. Foster 3-6 1-2 7; J. Calliste 3-6 1-2 9; C. Simon 4-6 3-4 14; E. Holman 5-8 1-2 11; D. Anderson 3-6 5-6 11; E. Bruinsma 2-4 1-2 6; L. Lowe 6-7 1-1 13; P. Boutte 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-55 19-25 93.
Three-point goals: YSU 6-20 (A. Ward 1-3; B. Allen 1-6; D. Brooks 3-7; K. Perry 1-3; N. Perry 0-1), UDM 8-17 (C. Simon 3-4; J. Calliste 2-4; E. Bruinsma 1-3; R. McCallum 2-5; D. Anderson 0-1); Rebounds: YSU 21 (D. Eargle 7), UDM 28 (E. Holman 10); Assists: YSU 16 (K. Perry 5), UDM 16 (R. McCallum 7); Total Fouls -- YSU 20, UDM 21; Fouled Out: YSU-None; UDM-None.