YOUNGSTOWN — John Lovelace Jr. hit four of his first five shots against Lake Erie.
As the shots kept falling, the sophomore’s Youngstown State teammates told him to just keep shooting.
“It felt good — the guys kept telling me to keep going,” Lovelace said. “They kept bringing me the ball and I kept going. They believed in me and I appreciate them for that.”
Lovelace set a career high against the Storm, finishing with 29 points on 12-for-17 shooting in the Penguins’ 79-57 victory on Sunday at the Beeghly Center.
“I was in a groove. When the shots keep going in, you get the confidence to shoot another one,” Lovelace said. “Then when the guys keep telling you to keep shooting, it just lifts you up even more. … Some guys might not have the best game, but our team is deep enough to where anybody can go off on any given night.”
It was the second straight game that YSU got a spark from a performance off the bench. On Friday night against Utah Tech, Jaylen Bates came in and scored 12 points for the Penguins.
Against the Storm, it was Lovelace’s turn.
“If you look at our production the last two games, it’s been two guys that are not starters,” head coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “Two guys that probably weren’t really happy with me going into the second unit and not having equal guys in practice. So maybe I need to do that a little bit more. Maybe I’ve gotta do a better job of challenging guys and getting more out of guys. We’ve certainly gotta do that.”
With 6:42 left in the first half, YSU led by 13, the Penguins’ largest lead up till that point. But the Storm made a change.
Lake Erie went to a zone, extending a 1-2-2 trapping zone to slow YSU down. Then once back in the half court, the Storm dropped into a 2-3 zone.
YSU’s offense went stagnant over the final four minutes of the half, as Lake Erie closed it out on a 10-0 run that included back-to-back three-pointers to tie the game 32-32 at halftime.
“I was glad they (went to zone) because we’re going to see that against Dayton, but it’s going to be ramped up a little bit more,” Calhoun said. “So that was good for us. We have never seen that. I think part of these things when you’re thrown into the fire with a lot of new guys — I don’t care, D1, D2, whatever — whoever you’re playing, just seeing different things thrown at you is good. So that 1-2-2 was very effective for them. Not so effective for us. But we hadn’t seen it and we only had one day to prepare for it. But we adjusted to it and settled down in the second half.”
Despite Lake Erie briefly taking their first and only lead shortly after the start of the second half, the Penguins retook the lead for good at about the 16-minute mark.
Lovelace continued what he started in the first half. After scoring 14 in the first half, he added 15 in the second as YSU outscored the Storm 47-25 after the intermission. Lovelace’s career day was highlighted by a solo steal and fastbreak tomahawk dunk late in the second half.
Ziggy Reid finished with 12 points for the Penguins, while DJ Burns chipped in 11.
“There’s a standard here and a way we want to play,” Calhoun said. “We didn’t play that way in the first half — credit to (Lake Erie). But also some of our deficiencies really stood out. I thought the second half, the kids were locked in. We were 11 points better from the three-point line and the field, guarding. That’s really what it comes down to, but you can’t have 14 turnovers and go 7-for-27 from three. That doesn’t help either.
“We’ve got a lot of things to clean up. We’re nowhere near where we need to be, but I told them this week, the potential’s there. Do we have the right mind frame and the work ethic? That’s what we gotta get.”
After three games in less than a week, the Penguins now have a few days before traveling to Dayton to face the Flyers on Black Friday at 7 p.m.