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YSU finally gets past stingy Vikings

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Youngstown State’s Darius Quisenberry, right, drives inside on Franklyn Penn of Cleveland State on Saturday in YSU’s 67-55 victory.

YOUNGSTOWN — Darius Quisenberry took the ball with seconds remaining, near the mid-court stripe. The Youngstown State University sophomore guard started pumping his fist as he was dribbling. The smile could not leave his face, nor for the face of anyone wearing a YSU uniform.

Zeros hit the clock and the celebration had begun on the Beeghly Center court. It had been more than two years since the Penguins had beaten Cleveland State’s men’s basketball team. Cameron Morse’s buzzer-beating shot at the Wolstein Center on Jan. 1, 2018, was the last time YSU could say it was victorious against the Vikings.

That changed Saturday as YSU won its second straight and snapped a five-game losing streak against CSU with a defensive-driven victory, 67-55. The last time the Penguins (14-11, 7-5 Horizon League) held a team under 60 points was Dec. 18 against Binghamton, 73-55.

The Penguins were similar to the team which dominated in December and early January. YSU had a 41-24 rebounding advantage and had 14 offensive rebounds Saturday.

“At the beginning of the game coach was telling us we need to get back to the way we play,” said sophomore guard Jelani Simmons, who had a game-high 23 points off the bench. “That’s how we win. That’s our identity. That’s what we did tonight. We got the W doing that.”

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Jelani Simmons of Youngstown State takes advantage of a fast-break situation during the first half. Simmons scored a game-high 23 points.

YSU trailed at halftime by six points and is 2-8 when losing after the first 20 minutes. The Penguins improved to 11-2 at the Beeghly Center and moved into third place in the Horizon League standings, a half game ahead of a three-way tie for fourth place with Green Bay, Milwaukee and UIC.

YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun, who attended Cleveland State in the early 2000s, was reminded in the postgame news conference about the Penguins’ woes against the Vikings (9-16, 5-7). He told his team before the game that he’d do something special if YSU was victorious.

“I told them if we win, I’m going to dance tonight,” Calhoun said. “I went in there (locker room) and sprayed them with water. That’s typically not my style.

“We saw one of these teams did it this week. I said, ‘You know what guys, we’ve got three games at home. Let’s have some fun.’ It was exciting. Hopefully the ceiling down there is not ruined.”

Michael Akuchie, who had his third double-double this season and of his career with 12 points and 10 rebounds, made a 3-pointer with 10 minutes remaining to give YSU a 47-37 lead. It capped a 21-5 run in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

The Penguins had seen a nine-point advantage with less than 4 minutes remaining in regulation cost them against UIC in overtime on Jan. 30.

This time, YSU kept a young, hard-charging CSU team from taking the lead. Algevon Eichelberger, who had a team-high 21 points for the Vikings, drove the lane, as the 6-foot-8, 250-pound junior forward did so many times against YSU, to cut the lead to one, 54-53 with 3:19 remaining.

“That big kid for them is really good,” Calhoun said.

Torrey Patton had 13 points, while Hugo Ferreira added 10 for the Vikings.

Quisenberry drove the lane twice in the next minute to expand the lead to five.

Simmons made one of his four 3-pointers with 57 seconds left for a 61-55 lead as the Penguins could see that five-game losing streak to their Ohio rival evaporate.

Cleveland State coach Dennis Gates drew a technical with 41 seconds left, questioning the fouls on his team. Quisenberry, who had 16 points, made his two technical free throws and two others off the personal foul for a four-point swing and a 65-55 lead.

“Time and score is a huge one for us,” Quisenberry said. “We try to learn from experience and things like that to help us down the stretch. Now we know when we get up so many points, you’ve got to run down the shot clock a little bit to get a better shot.”

Simmons blocked Eichelberger with 29 seconds left to put the exclamation point on Saturday’s win. Simmons had 19 points the last time the Penguins played CSU in early January.

“I was feeling good in warm-ups,” Simmons said. “I was telling DQ, ‘I feel like (Portland Trail Blazers guard) Dame Lillard out there.’ Just came out hot.”

YSU is on the road for four of the last six regular-season games, starting Thursday at Detroit Mercy, beginning at 7 p.m.

The Penguins are two games behind Northern Kentucky for second place. YSU hosts Wright State on Feb. 20 and Northern Kentucky on Feb. 22 to end the home portion of the regular season. The other three road games are Feb. 15 at Oakland, Feb. 27 at Green Bay and Feb. 29 at Milwaukee.

The Penguins want to finish games like they did on Saturday. Finish was the team’s word for the week.

“Whether it’s a shooting drill, whether it’s a defensive drill, finish the drill,” Calhoun said. “Finish what you’re doing. Tonight we did that.”