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YSU fails to finish in crucial loss

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU’s Naz Bohannon scores inside on Friday night.

YOUNGSTOWN — With just over five seconds remaining in the game and Youngstown State trailing, 72-70, on Friday night against IUPUI, freshman Shemar Rathan-Mayes dribbles around the outside and gets the ball into the hands of junior Darius Quisenberry, with three seconds left.

One step, two steps, top of the arc, the shot is up in the face of IUPUI’s Bakari LaStrap — airball, game over.

LaStrap fist pumps the air, and IUPUI runs off the court and into the tunnel with endless joy, while Quisenberry bends over with his hands over his head. Senior Michael Akuchie shares a similar reaction near the Penguins’ bench.

YSU was stunned, especially after it led 31-17 with a few minutes to go before halftime, then 65-57 late in the second half. It’s been a similar story all season for a Penguin team that hasn’t found ways to close out games. YSU saw its four-game winning streak busted at home against the Jaguars.

“I thought the game got away from us in the last five minutes of the first half and it came back to bite us,” coach Jerrod Calhoun said following the loss. “We made a little run in the second half, but we went four of the last five or six possessions of not even getting a shot.

“Literally coming down and turning the ball over, against the side ball screen coverage, ice, or downing it, however you want to call it, we couldn’t handle it, and a couple other isolation plays we gave them the ball.”

YSU came into the contest as the fifth seed in the Horizon League, with the possibility of the Penguins leaping third-seeded Oakland or fourth-seeded Northern Kentucky if the Penguins won out and received some help from a few other teams.

The loss more or less eliminates any shot the Penguins had of an automatic bye into the quarterfinals at home.

“Crushing, crushing loss,” Calhoun said. “We had great momentum, had won five in a row, had a chance to be a top-four seed, and we didn’t take advantage.

“I’ll be the one to hold our program accountable, we just did not play for the full 40 minutes.”

IUPU went on a 20-3 run to close the first half, and led 37-34 going into the locker room, after being down 14 points.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU junior Darius Quisenberry hauls down a defensive rebound during the second half, and also scored 20 points.

Marcus Burk was an issue all evening for YSU. He recorded 24 points, but fouled out with 6:57 remaining in the contest. Despite him being on the bench, the Jaguars (8-8, 7-8) outscored the Penguins 15-5 after he left the game.

On the final play, Akuchie snagged the rebound following an intentional miss off the hands of Mike DePersia with 9.4 left. YSU didn’t have any more timeouts, forcing the Penguins to take the ball downcourt.

“In that situation, you want to get the ball downhill, I thought they did a pretty good job of cutting Shemar off,” Calhoun explained. “Darius got it kind of late, I would have liked to have gotten the ball in the middle of the floor to get downhill, but I thought the couple possessions before we executed well on that one.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU senior Michael Akuchie dribbles in the paint against an IUPUI defender.

“We had a play ready to go if he made it, but on a miss, that’s a situation where players got to make plays. You have to get downhill, you’ve got to create a disadvantage with the dribble drive.”

Quisenberry paced YSU with 20 points, alongside Naz Bohannon and Garrett Covington with 16 points each. Bohannon additionally had 10 rebounds, which allowed him to record his fourth double-double of the season. Rathan-Mayes went 0-for-10 from the field, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range.

Youngstown State (13-11, 8-11) will wrap its regular season against IUPUI this evening at 5.

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