Major injury leads to offensive struggles

Michael Akuchie continues to lead the Penguins through team injury.

By Kyle Wills

The Youngstown State University men’s basketball team had a rough weekend Nov. 19-21 at the YSU/J. Arnold Wealth Management Company Basketball Tournament, losing two out of three games.

Youngstown State had a stellar first game Friday, Nov. 19 against the University of St. Thomas as the team would shoot 55% from the floor and 69% in the second half. The Penguins topped the Tommies 79-75.

In the contest, senior guard Garrett Covington went down early with an achilles injury, putting an end to his fifth season.

“Garrett going down, it could be a major loss, tragic. We run everything through [Michael Akuchie] and Garrett pretty much, so we’re going to change our plan of attack,” head coach Jerrod Calhoun said.

Despite the injury, Youngstown State still managed to prevail as senior forward Michael Akuchie continued his strong early season play, recording 20 points, shooting 8 of 13, while also snagging eight rebounds.

This performance was Akuchie’s second 20-point showing through the team’s first three games. With the offensive losses of Naz Bohannon and Darius Quisenberry through the transfer portal, Akuchie is looking to take over a void on offense.

“I’ve been here for five years. I know I’m smart enough to know where to get my points. I’m patient enough to know when to attack, making certain reads,” he said. “It’s a certain level of confidence I have that I trust myself going into every game. I know that’s part of what I have to do for us to win and just be an offensive threat every night.” 

Senior guard Tevin Olison led the second half surge, in which he scored all 12 of his points to go along with his five assists. Olison also had a stellar defensive performance, blocking four St. Thomas shots and snatching a steal. Sophomore guard Myles Hunter also had a great performance off the bench, scoring 14 points in 27 minutes.

Shooting from behind the 3-point line kept the Tommies in the game as the team shot 50% beyond the arc, draining 17 of 34. 

On Saturday, Nov. 20, the Penguins did not have similar fortune as they fell to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on a buzzer beater 69-66.

Even with the key loss of Covington the previous day, the men would enter the second half of the contest leading 39-31. The first half for Youngstown State featured a 13-of-26 shooting performance and 14 free throw attempts, as well as a strong defensive showing, snagging 16 boards and swiping the ball five times from SIU-Edwardsville.

However, the Penguins couldn’t hold off SIU-Edwardsville’s strong second-half play. The Cougars would shoot 11-of-22 in the second half and were at the free-throw line frequently, shooting 18 times from the line.

Akuchie would once again lead the Penguins in scoring with 14 points, 8 coming off 9 free throw attempts while Olison and Hunter each contributed 10.

Youngstown State would be defeated again Nov. 21 at the hands of Niagara University 58-53 as the Penguins struggled to get the offense rolling, shooting 33.3% as a team.

The team’s rocky offensive showing continued from deep as it could not get anything to fall beyond the arc as it shot 4 of 24 from 3-point range.

The Penguins would go scoreless for almost seven minutes to start the game before sophomore guard Shemar Rathan-Mayes got the team on the board with a pair of free throws. Rathan-Mayes also led the team with 12 points.

Despite the offensive struggles, the men battled defensively to keep themselves within reach as Akuchie and Olison were aggressive, grabbing 10 and nine rebounds. Junior guard Dwayne Cohill, sophomore guard Daniel Ogoro and senior forward Jamir Thomas also contributed on the glass as Cohill finished with six while Ogoro and Thomas both finished with four.

The men missed the presence of Covington on offense as the three-time All Horizon League Defensive Team selection is one of the team’s best cutters. A season ago, he saw a rise in points per game as his game average rose from 8.5 to 12.5 and was off to a great start this season, scoring 11 and 18 points in the team’s first two games.

“[Covington’s] probably our biggest voice in the locker room prior, toughest kid, probably our best defender, our best cutter,” Calhoun said. “I thought we’d be able to rally and play without him, but we need some practice, try to figure this thing out. We were really exposed with our youth.”

The Youngstown State men’s basketball team will look to turn things around 8 p.m. Dec. 2, on the road against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.