Youngstown State pulls away for 74-56 win over Northern Kentucky

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Youngstown State forward Adrian Nelson finishes off a dunk during the Penguins' 74-56 throttling of Northern Kentucky.

YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State was out to make a statement.

After falling to Northern Kentucky in double overtime back in December, the Penguins had a chip on their shoulder as the Norse made their return trip to the Beeghly Center on Saturday night.

In a battle of first place teams in the Horizon League, YSU suffocated the Norse after halftime and carved up NKU’s matchup zone en route to a 74-56 victory in front of 3,531 fans.

With the win, the Penguins (19-6, 11-3 Horizon League) move into sole possession of first place until at least Monday, when Milwaukee takes on Green Bay. The Panthers sit half a game back of YSU entering the contest.

NKU (15-10, 10-4 Horizon League) drops into third place for now.

“Tonight, our guys really wanted to make a statement,” said YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun. “It really was our defense. … I thought our guys just stayed the course. The first half was kind of what I expected having to play three overtimes (Thursday), but our guys are relentless. It’s a fun group to coach, and I really want to thank this community. They’re coming out in a big, big way.”

The Penguins initially took a 36-32 lead into the intermission before beginning the second half on a 9-2 spurt that put them up 45-34 at the 16:31 mark and forced a Norse timeout.

Later, up 56-45, the Penguins went on another haymaking run, this one a 14-2 burst that put things out of reach for good. The run grew YSU’s lead to 70-47 at the 5:58 mark, and NKU never got closer than the final 18-point differential the rest of the way.

As Calhoun asserted, it began with defense. The Penguins kept their visitors to an 8-for-31 mark after halftime (and a 19-for-59 mark for the game). The typically potent Marques Warrick was held to six points on a 2-for-6 night, though fellow guard Sam Vinson did pop for 18 points, while Trey Robinson added 11.

“We talked about taking their best player out of the equation, and that’s Warrick,” Calhoun said.

YSU guard Brandon Rush added, “They were driving the baseline to turn around and try to get back to (their guards) for crack-back threes. We tried to make sure we took those away, switch (on screens) when we need to and pressure up on different types of ball screen execution.”

Meanwhile, YSU’s offense worked efficiently against NKU’s matchup zone. YSU shot 30-of-51 for the night and 14-of-24 after halftime, and outscored the Norse 42-22 in the paint. The Penguins had 18 assists to just 10 turnovers.

Brandon Rush led the way with 18 points, including four 3-pointers, and Adrian Nelson, who transferred to YSU from NKU, posted his third consecutive double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Malek Green added 13 points and nine rebounds, and Dwayne Cohill had 15 points and six assists.

“Just getting the ball in the high post. We know they’re vulnerable in the high post and in the corner, so we tried to exploit that,” said Rush, who keyed the 9-2 run early in the second half with a pair of 3-pointers.

Calhoun added, “You’re playing a team that was holding teams to 57 points the last five games. They’re not (just) good — they’re an elite defensive team. It’s hard to play against that matchup zone. … So, really proud of the fact we got 74. I know that’s 10 below our average, but against this team that’s good.”

The Penguins hit the road next week with a Friday trip to Purdue Fort Wayne and then a Sunday visit to Cleveland State. That begins a critical stretch that also includes a home game against Milwaukee.

“(This time of year) you’re either going north or you’re going south,” Calhoun said. “I talked to our guys about that. We’re trying to go north, we’re trying to go to the top of our league. … So we have to stay together, we have to keep fighting.”



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