YSU men’s basketball teams runs out of gas against Akron in defeat
By MARTY GTILIN
The last time Youngstown State won a second straight game against Akron in men’s basketball, Ronald Reagan occupied the White House, Michael Jackson was two years removed from his first moonwalk, and LeBron James had not even begun to crawl.
That was February 1985. But one wondered at halftime of their battle Saturday afternoon in the opener of the Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer doubleheader at the Wolstein Center if it could happen again. After all, the Penguins won their last meeting in 2016.
One didn’t wonder for long. The Zips started pulling away after intermission and never stopped in a 98-69 victory. The final score also represented the largest lead of the game.
YSU (0-2) played tenacious defense and nailed 10 3-pointers in a first-half bombfest that concluded with Akron (2-0) ahead just 46-44. The Penguins hit just 10 of 34 shots thereafter, including 2 of 12 from beyond the arc. They fell behind by 10 on a fast-break hoop by Zips guard Tyler Cheese five minutes into the second half. Akron continued to build the advantage until the final buzzer.
The post-break struggles have become all too familiar to second-year YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun, whose inexperienced bunch faltered at the same point in their opener against Pitt.
“We like to play fast, but at this time we’re not playing as fast as we’d like,” Calhoun said. “We did a good job of it in the first half, but our games are like practice. We die out after an hour or an hour-and-twenty. Same as what happened against Pitt.”
The Zips took advantage of that second-half lethargy. They attacked in transition off Penguin misses and in the half-court slicing to the basket. The main culprits were forward Daniel Utomi and guards Jimond Ivey and Loren Cristian Jackson, who combined for 59 points on 60-percent shooting.
The entire Akron backcourt created high-percentage shots. They struggled to do so against a fierce YSU defense in the first half but found their groove in the final 20 minutes. And though Zips coach John Groce conceded that his team has a long way to go to reach its potential, he wasn’t complaining about the aggressiveness on both sides of the court.
“Obviously in the second half we were much better defensively,” Groce said. “Give YSU credit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team make 10 3-pointers in one half from eight different players.”
Indeed, the Penguins rebounded at first from their frigid 8-for-38 performance on 3-pointers against the Panthers. They hit five of their first nine from deep to sprint to a 20-13 lead and bolted ahead 29-21 on a bomb by guard Garrett Covington before Akron forged in front for the first time with four minutes left in the half.
The lone YSU standout after intermission was forward Olamide Pedersen, who yanked down eight rebounds in the second half and finished with a team-high 18 points and 10 boards. Guard Darius Quisenberry was the only other Penguin in double figures scoring with 10.
Calhoun believed his team’s struggles from the field affected its defense.
“When the ball doesn’t go in the basket, we had a tendency to stop guarding,” he said. “When you’re not scoring, that’s when you need to guard harder.”