YOUNGSTOWN - In the past four seasons, the Youngstown State Penguins had a thorn in their sides when it came to the Cleveland State Vikings, especially at the Beeghly Center.
The Vikings won nine of the last 11 contests between the two Horizon League schools, with the last four in Youngstown going to the Vikings by an average of 14 points. This included a 20-point win last season.
Youngstown State coach Jerry Slocum discussed this poor record with his team, and the Penguins responded with a big 73-59 win over the Vikings Saturday to continue their three-game home stand without a blemish.
"For whatever reason, we have not played well against Cleveland State in this game at home," Slocum said. "We talked to those guys about the importance of being able to handle the moment at home in a big game. I thought we played very, very well."
Once again, junior Kamren Belin led the charge for the Penguins (12-8, 4-3), recording a game-high 24 points in 36 minutes of action.
Belin shot 50 percent from the field, including a 4-of-8 performance from beyond the arc in the first half. Even when his field-goal attempts became limited in the second half, the junior guard went 5 of 5 from the charity stripe to continue to carry Youngstown State offensively.
"This is a guy that we believe can play," Slocum said. "It was kind of a mystery for us for the first 10 games why he wasn't a little more consistent. His confidence is up right now."
Belin and his teammates managed to score at crucial moments for the Penguins, twice after the Vikings (10-12, 2-6) clawed back into the game.
The Vikings erased a nine-point deficit to take a 25-24 lead with 6:44 remaining in the first half, but the lead didn't last long. The Penguins woke up, finishing the half on an 18-2 run.
The junior had nine points during that run, including two 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions at the 3:16 and 2:46 marks.
Up 17 points in the second half, the Penguins saw their lead shrink to six points with 9:19 remaining. D.J. Cole and Kendrick Perry picked up their teammates this time, with each draining a 3-pointer and Perry adding a layup to stretch the lead back to 14 points 2 minutes later.
Perry finished with 17 points, while Cole added nine and grabbed nine rebounds.
"Whether it's me hitting a shot or Damien (Eargle) hitting a shot or anybody, the energy just builds," Belin said. "We got to keep the energy from the shots that we make."
As a team with only one senior, inexperience plagued the Vikings, who allowed themselves into three double-digit deficits throughout the game. Although Cleveland State managed to pull itself out of the hole twice, the Vikings had no energy left to come back a third time.
Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said after going down early multiple times this season, he hopes that his young team will learn to buck the trend.
"When you're dealing with as many young kids as we are, you're going to be up and down," Waters said. "They got to figure it out. The more games they play, the better they'll figure it out."
As for the Penguins, they held the lead for most of the game, and when the offense wasn't working, the team managed to keep its cool and get the win.
Belin said it was one of the team's most impressive performances of the season.
"We took control of the game early, and we kept control of it," Belin said. "So, it was the most complete game for us."