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YSU men aim for final four spot

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Youngstown State senior Naz Bohannon (33), shown here in a game earlier this season, will play a key role for the Penguins in a quarterfinal with Oakland today.

The Youngstown State men’s basketball team rode a balanced attack to victory in the opening round of the Horizon League tournament last week.

Tonight, with two major differences, the sixth-seeded Penguins hope to use that same balance and add a win in the quarterfinal round, thus claiming a spot in next week’s final four at Indianapolis.

The two major differences tonight are the opponent — third-seeded Oakland instead of UIC, No. 11 — and location, as the Penguins leave the friendly confines of the Beeghly Center and go on the road.

The Penguins and Grizzlies start at 7:30 p.m., and the game can be found on WKBN 570-AM and on ESPN-plus.

YSU (15-11) led for more than 35 minutes last Thursday against UIC (9-13) and had five players score in double figures in a 74-58 win. Michael Akuchie scored a game-high 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season. Naz Bohannon had 15 points and six assists, Darius Quisenberry scored 12 points, and Garrett Covington and Shemar Rathan-Mayes both had 10 points.

It was the seventh win in the last eight games for the Penguins, a streak that coincides with the return from injury in February of Quisenberry.

Akuchie and Rathan-Mayes combined for 17 points in the first half as Youngstown State built a 35-25 lead at halftime. The lead reached 43-29 at the 16:13 mark of the game, then the Flames closed to within 46-39. YSU pushed the advantage back to a dozen before UIC got to within 57-51 with 5:13 remaining. A 9-0 Penguin run made it 66-51 with 2:21 remaining.

UIC shot 45.3 percent, but it committed twice as many turnovers as the Penguins at 18-9.

“That’s as good as we’ve played defense, probably in my four years of being the head coach,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said after the game. “I was so proud of our guys. They were resilient, locked in throughout the week. I felt very, very confident coming into this game.”

Tonight, the Penguins face the Grizzlies (10-17, 10-10 Horizon), who handed YSU two road losses, 82-65 and 81-74, in mid-January.

Oakland is led by Jalen Moore, who averages 17.8 points per game and 8.4 assists, and Daniel Oladapo, who averages 8.8 rebounds per game.

“UIC eliminated us last year and two years ago it was Oakland. So we’re getting a chance to get even,” Calhoun said. “I’ve got great respect for what they’ve done this year. They played a lot of high major schools. They’ve got a little bit of everything. They’re balanced, they’re going to play a ton of zone, they’ll try to press us a little bit in that zone.

“They did beat us twice, but now we’re 1-0. We’re not going to talk about that, being 0-2, but I’m sure it’s going to motivate our guys.”

Other quarterfinal matchups tonight include top-seeded Cleveland State at home against No. 10 Purdue Fort Wayne, No. 2 Wright State hosting No. 8 Milwaukee and No. 5 Detroit Mercy playing at No. 4 Northern Kentucky.

Fort Wayne pulled the only opening-round upset, knocking off seventh-seeded Green Bay.

The final four is scheduled next Monday and Tuesday at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis. Semifinal games on Monday are at 6:30 (ESPNU) and 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2), with the final slated Tuesday at 7 on ESPN or ESPN2.

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