Penguins fall to Niagara, 58-53
YOUNGSTOWN — Jerrod Calhoun had seen enough.
Trailing 7-0 with 16:24 left in the first half, Youngstown State’s head coach decided to make wholesale changes, subbing out his entire starting five just minutes into the game to send a message: the poor execution and low energy were unacceptable.
That inauspicious start set the tone for a tough afternoon offensively, as YSU fell 58-53 to Niagara in a defensive struggle on Day 3 of the Penguins’ MTE.
“I was just so disappointed,” Calhoun said of the mass substitution, adding that the Penguins (2-3) had incorrectly run a play drawn up for them and allowed Niagara’s pair of southpaw guards to drive to their dominant left side.
He added, “I just didn’t think we had that edge to start the game. We got it, but it took me acting like a fool and getting guys riled up and telling them to get out and get ready to play. If that’s what it takes, we got to do it, but that doesn’t usually happen a lot. We just weren’t ready.”
While the energy level picked up from there — YSU rallied to take a 16-15 lead with 5:04 left in the half (its only lead of the day) — the offense never did kick into rhythm. The Penguins began 2-for-18 from the field and finished the first half 7-for-28. By game’s end, that performance came to a 19-for-53 day that included a paltry 4-for-24 performance from 3-point range.
YSU also finished with just six assists compared to 11 turnovers.
As a result, after falling behind again after that 16-15 advantage, the Penguins never managed to get back over the hump despite a solid day of defense. After falling behind by 10 early in the second half, YSU never trailed by double-digits the rest of the way.
In fact, the Penguins came back from that deficit to tie the game at 49 with 1:54 to play following a jumper from Myles Hunter.
However, Noah Thomasson sank a layup to put NU back ahead, and then following a YSU turnover, Sam Iorio drilled a trey from the wing to deliver the dagger and put Niagara ahead 54-49. The Purple Eagles held on from there.
NU’s Marcus Hammond led all scorers with 19 points, while Iorio had 10.
“You would never think you’re going to lose a game when you hold a team in the 50s,” Calhoun said. “I mean, that’s unheard of (as) to how bad offensively (we were).”
He also credited Niagara for its performance defensively.
“You hold a team to 50, it’s not just bad offense. That’s good defense,” Calhoun said. “I’m always one to give the opponent their due.”
Shemar Rathan-Mayes was the only YSU player to eclipse double figures, as he finished with 12 points. Michael Akuchie added eight points and 10 rebounds, while Tevin Olison had six points and nine boards.
“We were really, really exposed, I thought, in the last 48 hours, with our youth,” Calhoun said. “Yesterday (in a loss to SIUE), it was really game management awareness, you know, live ball turnovers. A couple of them we threw out of bounds to people in the first row, but just understanding how to manage a game. And then tonight, it was just really, that round ball did not go in the basket.”
A large part of that is the injuries dealt YSU’s way. The Penguins are still reeling from Garrett Covington’s Achilles rupture that happened Friday, while Greyson Kelley is out with what Calhoun said is a torn ACL.
“It’s just been crazy. So you’re trying to figure out rotations, and you’re trying to figure out how you want to play,” Calhoun said.
Perhaps thankfully for him and his players, YSU is off for a week and a half. The Penguins don’t play again until opening Horizon League play at Milwaukee on Dec. 2.
Calhoun said the team will be in the film room today and then practice some Tuesday before taking a few days off. Players will return Saturday night for practice and then gear up for the Panthers.
Of the upcoming break, Calhoun said, “You just got to self-reflect. You got to stay together. … When you lose it’s not supposed to be all happy-go-lucky; I don’t believe in that. I do believe in you’ve got to get better and you got to stay the course and stay together.
“But I want (the players) to have some edge here, the next seven, eight days, push each other and stay together on and off the court. We got a good group, I think it’s more just understanding how you win. I don’t think we quite know that yet.”