YSU tops NKU, ends losing run
By Greg Gulas
Cameron Morse’s 20 points led five Penguins in double figures as Youngstown State defeated Northern Kentucky, 81-77, in Horizon League action Saturday at the Beeghly Center.
“Senior Night” marked the 2,200th game — YSU is now 1,074-1,126 — all-time for the men’s program as they broke a five-game tailspin and won for the very first time in February.
Morse, who did not commit a turnover in 36 minutes of action, also added seven assists and five rebounds while Matt Donlan (14 points), Jorden Kaufman (12 points), Braun Hartfield (12 points) and Francisco Santiago (10 points) also hit double figures for YSU (11-18, 5-11).
It was a much happier Morse in the post-game press conference than after Thursday’s 84-81 defeat to Wright State.
“This game we got up and down, shared the ball and everyone got some easy shots. Matt Donlan hit some good shots and I just felt like that was the key to the game,” Morse said. “Cisco [Santiago] is an energy guy. That’s what he does as he plays hard all the time.”
The four seniors honored during pre-game ceremonies were Donlan, Tyler Warford, Brett Frantz and Jorden Kaufman.
Kaufman was a big reason that YSU held a 44-34 scoring advantage in the paint, canning all 12 of his points in the opening half while missing just two shots overall in 23 minutes of action.
Donlan also hauled in seven caroms despite the Norse (18-10, 9-6) holding a 46-34 edge on the boards.
“This was one of those games that was a long time coming for us. We’ve had a lot of close games recently, just haven’t been on the right side of the outcome,” Donlan said. “I think it was one of those games where it was really nice for us to get over the hump. We made a couple plays that went our way, got a couple 50-50 balls that can decide the game and we were the ones that made those plays at the end of the game.”
Five players scoring in double figures was big, according to Donlan.
“We shared the ball tonight and I think that was pretty obvious from the opening jump,” Donlan said. “We’re out there making the extra pass and that just makes us that much better. We’re a hard team to guard with the weapons that we have, especially when we make the extra pass.”
YSU opened a 16-13 advantage at 11:26 of the opening half on back-to-back triples from Santiago and Donlan, only to lose the lead 48 seconds later on a bucket form behind arc from the Norse’s Dantez Walton.
In a half that featured three ties and seven lead changes, the Penguins opened a 37-33 margin on a Latin Davis bucket at the 2:20 mark, only to have Northern Kentucky take a 40-39 lead on two free throws by Mason Faulkner with 11 seconds remaining in the opening session.
A Santiago bucket with four ticks left on the clock however, helped YSU forge a 41-40 halftime advantage.
With YSU leading 46-42 and just 65 seconds gone in the second half, the Norse went on an 8-0 run to turn a four point deficit into a 50-46 advantage.
They then opened an eight point lead at 56-48 on a Brennan Gillis floater in the lane at 14:28, only to have YSU reel off 11 of the next 14 points to tie the contest at 59-all with 10:17 remaining.
A 6-0 run then enabled Northern Kentucky to regain the lead, 65-59 with a little over eight minutes remaining.
The Norse held the upper hand for the next six minutes, the last time at 75-74 with YSU securing the lead for good, 76-75 on a bucket by Braun Hartfield.
A Morse three-point play opened a 79-75 lead with two free throws by the Norse’s Mason Faulkner and another hoop by Morse rounding out the scoring.
“I thought that we did a tremendous job in the second half in overcoming, at times some of our mistakes to play a great defensive half,” YSU coach Jerry Slocum said. “When you hold that team to 36 percent from the floor and zero from the three-point line in the second half, I thought the game was won on the defensive end, even though they scored 77 points. The last three minutes we were really special defensively.”