By Kyle Wills
The Youngstown State University men’s basketball team split its first two games of the season, losing 75-59 to Penn State University and defeating Southeast Missouri State University 97-79.
On Nov. 10 senior Michael Akuchie scored 16 of his team-high 22 points against Penn State in the final 15 minutes. He was 6-for-12 overall and 4-for-6 from the 3-point range in the second half.
The fifth-year senior added 10 rebounds to collect a double-double. Senior Garrett Covington scored 9 of his 11 points in the first half, and freshman Shemar Rathan-Mayes added 10 points.
After Penn State scored the first five points of the game, Covington scored the next five points as part of a 9-2 run to push the score 9-7. The margin was within a possession until Youngstown State took a 21-17 advantage with just under 11 minutes remaining after another 9-2 run.
However, after junior Chris Shelton’s 3-pointer gave the Penguins their four-point lead, YSU managed just five points the rest of the half. Shelton’s basket gave Youngstown State seven straight makes, but the Penguins were 2-for-14 the rest of the half.
The Nittany Lions scored the next 9 points as part of a 16-2 run over an eight-minute stretch that gave them a 33-23 lead. Rathan-Mayes hit a 3-pointer at the 1:45 mark to cut the margin down to seven, and Penn State hit two free throws in the final minute to make the score 35-26 at half.
The Nittany Lions then made four of their first five attempts in the second half to open up a 45-30 lead. After that initial 10 point burst from Penn State in the first 3 minutes of the second half, the Penguins held them to three points over the next four-plus minutes to stay within striking distance.
Shelton hit a pair of 3-pointers to make the score 50-40 at the 12:05 mark, and Akuchie later scored five straight points to bring the Penguins back within single digits at 53-45 with 10:39 left.
Akuchie stayed hot and ended up scoring 11 points in a four-minute stretch to key the Penguins’ comeback bid. His third 3-pointer of the half got YSU within 57-51 at the 7:46 mark, and two Covington free throws with just over seven minutes remaining made the score 59-53.
After the free throws by Covington, Penn State would score 12 straight points to take a 71-53 lead. Akuchie broke YSU’s scoring drought of almost five minutes with a 3-pointer to make the score 71-56 with 2:19 left, and Rathan-Mayes hit a free throw and a jumper in the final two minutes for the team’s final points.
Youngstown State shot 39.3% for the game, and it went 10-for-24 from 3-point range for 41.7 %. Penn State shot 51.7 percent overall, including 64.3% in the second half. The Nittany Lions finished with a 43-25 edge in rebounding and a 12-2 advantage in second-chance points.
On Saturday, Nov. 13, Youngstown State outscored Southeast Missouri State 60-40 to pick up its first win of the season and first-ever win by the program in the state of Missouri. Both the Penguins and the Redhawks are 1-1 through two games early in the season.
Senior Tevin Olison took control as he was one of five Penguins to reach double figures, scoring 27 points. The transfer from the University of Cumberlands scored the game’s first nine points and had 14 in the half. Covington finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, Akuchie added 16 points, Rathan-Mayes had 15 and junior Dwayne Cohill contributed 10.
Youngstown State’s biggest lead the remainder of the first half was 29-25 with 5:29 left before the Penguins found themselves down 37-32 with 2:27 left in the half before getting within 39-37 at the break.
Six minutes into the second half, Cohill nailed a 3-pointer to make the score 54-51. Over the next 3:19 Youngstown State went on a 15-0 run to take control of the contest. During the run, Southeast Missouri State missed six consecutive shots while Olison and Covington combined for 10 points. A basket stopped the run, but Youngstown State scored the next 8 points to go on a 23-2 run. Covington had 6 of the 8 during that run.
Youngstown State outrebounded Southeast Missouri State 43-33 and committed just seven turnovers. The Penguins made 28-of-36 free throw attempts, 77.8%, and from the field made 31-of-63 attempts, 49.2%. Southeast Missouri had four players score in double figures. The Redhawks shot 40.4% from the field making 23-of-57 attempts.
Akuchie said the team maturity following the loss to Penn State helped the team turn things around in the win against Southeast Missouri State.
“A lot of people had a lot of adrenaline pumping [at Penn State]. [Our] first game is on a big stage at a Big Ten opponent. A lot of people have a lot of nerves,” he said. “What we did really well at SEMO was that everybody calmed down. We had good plays. Everybody was still up, everybody’s clapping, standing up when we had a bad play. When we weren’t getting a stop on defense or we weren’t hitting shots, everyone stayed together.”
Head coach Jerrod Calhoun said the halftime adjustments against SEMO led to some of the best basketball he’s seen from Youngstown State.
“Sports is about improving, and you saw that in the second half. That was probably as good of 12 minutes as we’ve had in my five years here. Getting stops led to great offense transition, the ball moves with this team. We really pass the ball, it’s a fun style to play,” he said.
The Penguins play their home opener Nov. 19, when they hosts the University of St. Thomas at the Beeghly Center for YSU’s J. Arnold Wealth Management Company Basketball Tournament. Tipoff for the opening contest is set for 5 p.m.
“We have to have good practices. We’ve got 48 hours here to practice for the next two days. We have to lock in. We’re getting better and better.better,” Calhoun said at Tuesday’s press conference.