In what was dubbed the YSU/J. Arnold Wealth Management Company Basketball Tournament, the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team would’ve been better off just not being there. From Nov. 19-21, the Penguins hosted the event at the Beeghley Center.
At 2-3 overall, the Penguins went 1-2 in the Multi-Team Event (MTE) and that was with a four-point win, so nothing went too well in this tournament.
The MTE included St. Thomas (MN), which made the jump from Division III to Division I in 2021-2022, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and Niagara University.
GAME 1: St. Thomas (MN) tough win
In the first game of the weekend, the Penguins played against St. Thomas (MN). YSU was trailing at halftime of this game as the Tommies couldn’t be stopped from beyond the three-point line.
YSU had no answer for the Tommies elite-level three-point shooting as the Penguins were down as much as eight in that first half. YSU trailed 36-32 as Anders Nelson had 10 points on 2-of-4 three-point shooting and Riley Miller had eight points on 2-of-6 three-point shooting.
In the second half, YSU didn’t take the lead permanently at the 8:19 mark of the second half on a Myles Hunter jumper. The Penguins didn’t relinquish the lead but it’s not a win that should excite the masses by any means.
Irregardless of that fact, the Penguins won the first game of its weekend which most would assume would be a good omen.
Michael Akuchie finished the game with a game-high 20 points 8-of-13 shooting. He also pulled down a game-high eight rebounds. Hunter contributed nicely off the bench with 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting and six rebounds.
GAME 2: Strange loss to SIU-Edwardsville
A disappointing loss to say the least. YSU had a nice lead, 39-31, at the half but it wouldn’t hold as YSU yet again struggled to keep the other team from hitting perimeter shots. SIUE’s Ray’Sean Taylor led the Cougars with 13 first-half points. Akuchie again led the Penguins and has been YSU’s major bright spot this year.
The Penguins were outscored, 38-27, in the second half as SIUE hit 50 percent of its shots to YSU’s 46 percent. The Cougars also hit four threes and made six more free throws in the win. It was now on to the third game for YSU.
GAME 3: A terrible loss against Niagara
This may very well have been YSU’s worst game of the weekend. It was bad basically from the start. Niagara came out and scored the first seven points of the game. The Eagles led 7-0 as YSU didn’t score until the 13:22 mark of the first half. That ended up being the theme of the game as YSU just couldn’t hit enough shots in the entire game.
In every way possible, the Penguins outplayed Niagara but not where it mattered; the scoreboard.
Niagara shot only 39.2 percent, which is great defense, but YSU only hit 33.3 percent of its shots which is not good by any measure. The Penguins hit just 16.7 percent of its threes by hitting four of its 24 attempts.
Only one important area of the game came back to bite the Penguins, turnover and the points scored off of them.
YSU turned the ball over 11 times for 16 points while Niagara turned the ball over nine times for 11 points. In a game that YSU lost, 58-53, that is the exact distance the Eagles needed. What a terrible showing for the Penguins.
CONFERENCE PLAY TURNAROUND
It was easy to say after that MTE back in November that the Penguins were due to have a bad start to Horizon League play. (Spoiler Alert: The Penguins didn’t suck.)
YSU started conference play with two road games in Wisconsin against University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Green Bay.
The first game was in Milwaukee against the Pat Baldwin Jr-less Panthers. The Penguins couldn’t shoot yet again but played a better game than it did a few weeks prior. On Dec. 2, the Panthers outshot the Penguins significantly. Despite shooting just 31.3 percent, the Penguins kept the ball tight and got a ton more free throws to balance out the game.
The Penguins hit 23 of its 27 free throws while the Panthers had just 14 attempts of which it hit 10. Also, the Penguins only turned the ball over five times to UWM’s 14. Off those turnovers, the Penguins scored 18 points to the Panthers’ four. Those were the main differences in a game that otherwise would’ve been a loss for the Penguins if PBJ did play.
In a 70-68 win, junior transfer Owen Long had his best game in a YSU uniform. He scored 17 points, 4 rebounds and 4 steals. He was the best player on the floor from an efficiency standpoint as Tevin Olison led the Penguins with 18 points on 6-of-19 shooting.
This game against the Phoenix would have to be considered YSU’s best game of the season. It was a total effort that propelled the Penguins to victory. In the 82-58 victory, the Penguins took the lead on a Jamir Thomas layup to go up 8-6 with 15:25 remaining in the first half and never looked back.
From there, the Penguins turned up the intensity in the Kress Center. It was an all-around game for the Penguins as four guys scored at least 15 points. Olison (20), Akuchie (17), Shemar Rathan-Mayes (15) and Dwayne Cohill (15) combined for 67 points on 24-of-44 shooting to pace YSU to victory.
The Penguins outrebounded, outshot and out-passed the Phoenix in this one. The second half was where the clamps really came in. Only Emmanuel Ansong scored in double figures for UWGB with 13 points. The Penguins allowed the Phoenix to grab just 19 rebounds which is quite an incredible number.
Quick Wrap Up
At 4-3, the Penguins will need to continue to play at this level to keep itself on pace with the top half of the league moving forward. After the GB on Dec. 4, the league play for YSU will pause with four games in between.
Before the Penguins get screwed by playing three more road games in league play, this week the Penguins will host Central Michigan and Canisius.