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Youngstown State falls to Oklahoma State in NIT first round, 69-64

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Youngstown State guard Dwayne Cohill puts up a shot during the second half of YSU's 69-64 loss to Oklahoma State in the opening round of the NIT.

YOUNGSTOWN — For as long as it could, Youngstown State held on for its life in an upset bid of Oklahoma State in its NIT debut.

Eventually, however, the shots stopped falling.

The final curtain dropped on the Penguins’ season Wednesday, as the Cowboys clamped down in the second half to take a 69-64 victory over YSU at the Beeghly Center in the first round of the NIT.

The Cowboys now will face Eastern Washington in the second round.

“I thought the game was really decided by us not making shots,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “I know a lot of people will be happy we hung with them or whatever, but we felt like we should’ve beaten them. We felt all week long we could hang with them and beat them, and we didn’t get it done. So it’s a little bit disappointing. I don’t know if it was their length or size, but we had a lot of open shots (not fall) that we normally make, so that was the difference.”

The Penguins (24-10) led 37-33 at halftime and shot at a 41.9 percent clip (13-for-31) overall and 33 percent clip from three-point range (5-for-15).

But as the game wore on, the Cowboys (19-15) asserted their will, holding YSU to separate scoring droughts of 5:23, 3:22 and 4:48 of game time after halftime. All the while, the Cowboys went on gradual runs that deflated YSU’s crowd of 4,099 and rallied them from an eight-point deficit with 14:54 to go to a 54-52 lead with 6:53 left. It was OSU’s first lead since a 7-5 advantage with 17:01 to go in the first half.

The Cowboys pushed the advantage to as high as eight, 62-54 with 1:33 to go, and then hit enough free throws down the stretch to hang on.

YSU finished the game 22-for-62 overall and 8-for-28 from three.

“I think there were a few moments in the game we went scoreless for about five, six minutes, and we let them make some big shots that gave them the momentum. It was a big momentum shift,” YSU guard Dwayne Cohill said. “We had some key turnovers and didn’t get some rebounds, and that was the main thing. The main thing we said was don’t give (OSU) energy, and I just think we let them get into a rhythm in the second half, and they really took advantage of it.”

Oklahoma State sank just 13 out of 41 shots before halftime and went an icy 2-for-12 from beyond the arc. But in the second half, the Cowboys were much more efficient, still making 13 field goals, but needing only 30 shots to get there.

The Cowboys also asserted their dominance in the paint as the game wore on. That came in large part thanks to Moussa Cisse, the 7-foot-1 forward who played just 6:26 in the first half due to foul trouble but finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds nonetheless. Tyreek Smith had 13 rebounds, while Quion Williams had 11.

As a team, OK State outscored YSU 44-28 in the paint and had a 23-10 advantage on second-chance points courtesy of 19 offensive rebounds.

As a whole, Oklahoma State had 49 rebounds to YSU’s 34.

“They outrebounded us by 15. I thought if we could keep it about half of that, (we’d win),” Calhoun said.

Cohill paced YSU with a game-high 25 points to go with five assists. Brandon Rush added 12 points, 10 of which came after halftime courtesy of a pair of three-pointers. Malek Green had eight points and 12 rebounds.

Cohill finished the season with 611 points and 164 assists, the first Penguin to score at least 600 points and record 150 assists in a season.

Five different Cowboys finished in double figures on a balanced night of offense. Smith led with 13 points, while Bryce Thompson, John-Michael Wright and Williams each scored 11 points to go with Cisse’s performance.

The 24 wins YSU attained are a new Division I record for the program and tie the all-time record. With that, Calhoun hopes to sustain the momentum into the offseason as the Penguins are tasked with replacing most of their key pieces in Cohill, Adrian Nelson, Green, point guard Bryce McBride and sixth-year guard Garrett Covington. That’s before any transfer portal hits.

“As I told the guys, it stinks tonight, but we’ll get over this,” Calhoun said. “What this city has done for our team, what the players have given to the city and university — not just the players, the coaches, the managers, our marketing team — there’s a lot of stuff that goes into this thing. … But just a remarkable year (with) a school record for wins, the first regular season (Horizon League) title. I can’t be more proud of this group.”

jwhetzel@tribtoday.com

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