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Penguins fall on SIUE buzzer-beater

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU fifth year senior Michael Akuchie lays down a massive dunk toward the end of the first half Saturday afternoon in a 69-66 loss to SIUE.

YOUNGSTOWN — It was a microcosm of what had transpired for much of the second half.

With the game tied at 66, Youngstown State had a chance to win with 3 seconds to go. But on the inbound, the Penguins committed a backcourt violation, giving SIU-Edwardsville the ball with 2 seconds to play.

The Cougars inbounded the ball to Ray’Sean Taylor, who caught it near midcourt, dribbled, and took two steps forward before drilling a contested 3-pointer with Myles Hunter’s hand in his face to lift SIUE to a come-from-behind 69-66 victory over the host Penguins on Saturday afternoon.

YSU (2-2) had led 39-31 at halftime, but 13 second-half turnovers gave SIUE (2-3) the ability to close the gap. The Cougars scored 21 points off YSU’s 18 giveaways, including 15 in the second half.

“You got to give SIU-Edwardsville a lot of credit. They stayed the course and made big plays,” Penguins head coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “Our offense got very, very stagnant. To score 66 at home was pretty shocking to me.”

After operating efficiently in the first half — YSU shot 50 percent from the field and 4-for-11 from 3-point range — the Penguins sputtered in the second as SIUE jumped into a soft 1-2-2 press and a 3-2 zone.

To compound the turnover problem, after assisting on six of 13 field goals in the first half, YSU had just three assists on 10 baskets in the second.

“We really struggled with that (press). I was shocked by that, but give (SIUE) a lot of credit,” Calhoun said. “It’s college basketball; this is what it is. We got a lot of new players.”

New players that now will be tasked with filling in for fifth-year senior Garrett Covington, who exited Friday night’s win over St. Thomas with what is now known to be a torn Achilles. Calhoun confirmed Covington will be out for the season and is scheduled to have surgery Monday.

Additionally, he noted that Greyson Kelley is hurt right now and Alex Vargo will enter the transfer portal Monday.

“We’re still trying to figure it out. We’re not a finished product by any means,” Calhoun said. “I looked down at the bench, and the sense of urgency just wasn’t there. But we don’t have many veteran guys, you know. We got a lot of new players.”

Michael Akuchie, YSU’s other fifth-year senior, once again led the way, as he scored 14 points and pulled down six rebounds. Tevin Olison (10 points) and Hunter (10 points) also scored in double figures, and all 10 Penguins that entered the game scored at least once.

On the defensive end, YSU tried a few different looks throughout the game, including 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones, to mixed results.

“We just played the numbers, then they come out and make shots, right?” Calhoun said. “Our defense obviously is not where it needs to be. We held them to 69; we’d like for that team to get about 64, 65. And there’s the difference in the game, right? The difference was three points. But you play by possession, you try to switch things up as a coach.

“With this group, it’s hard because there’s so many new guys, but I thought our 2-3 zone was pretty good at times. I thought our 1-3-1 at times was good, we got lost a little bit.”

However, Calhoun lamented that YSU didn’t get many opportunities in transition. YSU finished with three points on fast breaks, and those came in the first half.

“That means you’re not getting good stops and you’re not taking good shots. I thought our shot selection at times was not where it needs to be, and that’s what happens early in the season with a new team,” he added.

YSU had led by as much as 11 in the first half, and in the second led by as much as nine — 55-46 advantage with 9:18 to go. However, the Penguins never managed to land a knockout blow.

After Dwayne Cohill made a pair of free throws to grow the YSU lead to that nine-point gap, Taylor hit a trey to draw SIUE back to within six. Later, after an Akuchie layup put YSU back up seven, Carter Courtney sank a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to get the Cougars back within a bucket. YSU never led by more than four from that point on.

With 10 seconds to go and a 2-point lead, Daniel Ogoro missed a jumper that SIUE’s Shamar Wright rebounded and kicked out to Shaun Doss Jr. for a game-tying fastbreak layup.

YSU brought the ball back out across midcourt then called a timeout to set up a play with 3 seconds to go, but subsequently turned it over and gave possession back to the Cougars for their game-winner.

The Cougars were paced by Taylor’s 24 points and seven rebounds, while Doss Jr. had 19 points. SIUE led for a total of 2 minutes, 28 seconds.

Youngstown State will close out its 3-day MTE today with a 3:45 p.m. matchup against Niagara. The Purple Eagles defeated SIUE 70-60 Friday night and faced St. Thomas last night.

“Everybody will be gassed tomorrow; it’s the third game,” Calhoun predicted. “So it’ll tell a lot about the character of our team. We got to come out with a little more fight and execute. We didn’t execute down the stretch.”

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