Penguins second half success key to 4-1 start

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After an interesting and abbreviated non-conference schedule, Youngstown State men’s basketball did something in Horizon League it has never done.

The Penguins (4-1, 1-1 HL) had two shots to beat Northern Kentucky on the road. YSU won the matchup on Dec. 20 to split the weekend series. It was the first time it beat the Norse on the road in conference play.

Obviously, this year’s schedule is a little odd but no matter, YSU still found a way to get a road win that it’s never had at NKU (3-4, 1-1 HL).

Out of conference, it seemed YSU had a ton of rust to knock off and that’s not a surprise to anyone. Before I get into the NKU series, let’s quickly mention the three out of conference games it played.

Quick Out of Conference Recap

The Penguins defeated Point Park, Binghamton and West Virginia Tech. Before conference play, YSU only had one Division I this season.

Against Point Park, YSU led by just one at the break, 26-25, before dominating the second half for a 72-52 win. Jamir Thomas, Darius Quisenberry, Naz Bohannon and Garrett Covington all didn’t play allowing freshman Shemar Rathan-Mayes with 17 points.

In game two, the fighting Jerrod Calhouns travelled to Binghamton, NY to take on the Bearcats.

YSU yet again had first half struggles as it trailed 38-31 at halftime. The Penguins ramped it up in the second half to win 79-65. Bohannon led YSU with 23 points and six rebounds on 55 percent shooting. Covington, Michael Akuchie and Quisenberry all scored in double figures in the win.

The last non-conference game against WVU Tech was the same old script. Play terrible in the first half and then dominate the second half. YSU won that game 80-66 after trailing 43-37 at half.

Despite all those bad starts, YSU was 3-0 before conference play.

Certainly a Second Half team

Just five days after the win against WVU Tech, YSU travelled to Highland Heights, KY to take on Northern Kentucky. It’s a place that no YSU team has won.

With the unusual scheduling with two games at a time in one venue, the Penguins were afforded two chances at a first. Thank god it did get two tries because the first wasn’t very good.

The Penguins every bit of a team that played a few games but didn’t play anyone that truly challenged it.

YSU lost 79-64 after only being down three at half. Three-point shooting let the Penguins down mightily. Hitting just three of its 18 attempts was a recipe for a fat L. NKU shot the ball well from deep, hitting 11 threes, which proved to be the main difference. YSU did a lot of things right to win the game.

Both teams had 35 rebounds and YSU took 10 more free throws and hit 11 more than the Norse. YSU turned the ball over only nine times to NKU’s 12 but YSU only had nine assists all game to NKU’s 15 which was again a large difference.

Adham Eleeda killed the Penguins as he shot 6-of-7 from downtown off the bench in 21 minutes. Marques Warrick also scored 18 points to bury YSU. Bohannon, Akuchie and Geoff Hamperian were the lone bright spots for YSU. Hamperian scored 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting in 17 minutes off the bench while Bohannon had 12 points and nine rebounds. Akuchie had 15 points with nine rebounds.

Game two turned out to be different which is a sign of the times this program is in. This team is, without sounding corny, built differently. Teams before Calhoun took over would have lost both games and tucked their tails but not this YSU team.

BUILT DIFFERENT

YSU again trailed at halftime. It hasn’t had a halftime lead of more than a point in a game. The Penguins outscored NKU 45-33 in the second half for a 70-60 win. It was an important win for the season and the program as a whole.

YSU kept the Norse off the boards better and were the more aggressive team as evidence of the free throw discrepancy. It took 13 more and hit nine more which was basically the score difference. Otherwise, YSU didn’t do a ton better than NKU.

To some, that may be concerning but to me, it’s a sign of improvement. Winning games that look like losses is what make programs go from good to great.

Bohannon finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Akuchie recorded a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds while Rathan-Mayes poured in 13 points of his own. Quisenberry only scored seven points.

To play that poorly and have your best player be the lowest scorer is a good thing.

With two games on Dec. 26 and 27 against in-state rival Cleveland State, the Penguins have some things to clean up. Either way, a 4-1 record is a 4-1 record.

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