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Life comes full circle for Penguins’ Cohill

Correspondent file photo / Robert Hayes YSU guard Dwayne Cohill (5) drives past Notre Dame guard Ven-Allen Lubin (2) during the Penguins’ game at Notre Dame earlier this season. Cohill is coming off of a 43-point performance against Wright State.

YOUNGSTOWN — Dwayne Cohill makes no bones about the edge he plays with. In fact, he says, it’s what fuels him.

“I think it comes from the way I was brought up,” Youngstown State’s senior guard said. “I didn’t have much, so I always had to fight for everything. Nothing was really given to me, especially coming from Cleveland. … So I just go out and play with a chip on my shoulder.

“People might say, ‘Oh, you’re the best player on the court,’ but I go out there and play like nobody knows who I am or if I feel like somebody on the other team says something personal to me. That’s how I play. That’s why it may look like I’m showing out a little bit, but it’s just my edge is my fire. That’s how I get through and play the game. I think it helps me a lot really.”

Look no further than Cohill’s most recent outing for the best example. In Sunday’s 88-77 win at Wright State, Cohill turned in a career performance and scored 43 points on a blistering 16-of-19 mark from the field. He capped the evening with a play that made the SportsCenter Top 10 the next day, a steal and score that culminated in an alley-oop off the backboard to himself.

It confirmed a morning premonition Cohill says he had before taking the court at the Nutter Center.

“I was just like, ‘I’m feeling good today.’ And I think it was (YSU radio play-by-play caller) Robb (Schmidt) that said, ‘I feel a big game today.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, me too.’ But I just kind of brushed it off, because I always say that every day. I just always think I’m going to have a big game,” Cohill said.

One by one, the buckets poured in. Utilizing ball screens for much of the day, Cohill sank all six of his 3-point attempts and also went 5-for-5 at the free throw line.

Of the efficient day, Cohill said, “I think it was coaches helping to exploit mismatches. They were switching ball screens a lot, and in the two-man game, it was either we were getting the ball into Malek (Green) or (Adrian Nelson) inside or playing against their posts on the perimeter. They were switching ball screens, so we were just exploiting mismatches, and they really didn’t make any changes to adjust to it, so we just kept going to it.”

While scoring 43 in any game is memorable, the fact that it took place in the city Cohill began his collegiate career in before transferring to Youngstown State made it even more meaningful to the guard.

The Holy Name graduate originally committed to the University of Dayton out of high school, selecting the Flyers over plenty of other offers, and spent two seasons in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Unlike his role as an offensive centerpiece in Youngstown, though, Cohill was featured more as a defender with UD.

Adversity struck, however, when Cohill tore his ACL his junior year at Dayton and missed the entire 2020-21 season as a result. He spent most of the next year rehabbing from the surgery.

Given the circumstances, Cohill said he was ready for a fresh start, so he hit the transfer portal hoping to “get my head back in the right place.”

Enter the YSU coaching staff, and in particular, head coach Jerrod Calhoun, whose relationship with Cohill goes back to Cohill’s middle school years.

“Dwayne used to come to my house when we were at Fairmont (State); he and my son are the same age,” Calhoun explained. “So he would spend the night as a sixth, seventh and eighth grader, and I would work them out.”

Given the close ties, Calhoun said Cohill was YSU’s “No. 1 target” once he hit the portal.

And when Cohill’s name popped up, Calhoun called “instantly,” according to the guard.

“There were really three people involved,” Calhoun said. “Obviously Dwayne, because it’s his decision. But Dan Urban, an AAU coach and very good friend of mine, we talked weekly not only about Dwayne, but about (Dan’s) team. I tried to hire him years ago when I was at Fairmont to be my (graduate assistant). … And then Kevin Jackson was another guy that was involved that coached AAU as well with Dan.”

By all accounts, it’s been a mutually beneficial decision. Cohill has gotten a bigger role and has been a starter in all 43 games he’s played with YSU. He’s averaging 15.6 points per game in his Penguins career. This season alone, that figure is up to 17.9.

“I think everything that we kind of sold has happened,” Calhoun said. “He plays a much bigger role on our team than he did at Dayton. He was coming off an injury when he was at Dayton, so I think it’s worked out really well not only for him, but certainly for our program. We’re benefiting greatly.”

Cohill added, “The beginning was a little bumpy because I was getting back used to playing basketball, but once I got to it, I haven’t looked back. I’m proud of my decision to come here.”

The Penguins continue their season tonight against Westminster (7 p.m., ESPN+, 570 AM WKBN).

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