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YSU gets back on track against Green Bay

Youngstown State completes season sweep of the Phoenix with 63-50 Horizon League win

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU’s Michael Akuchie makes an emphatic dunk during the second half against Green Bay on Thursday evening.

YOUNGSTOWN — It won’t be remembered as a flawless victory by any means, but it was a much-needed win nonetheless.

Using a strong defensive performance and double-digit nights from four players, Youngstown State led wire to wire in a 63-50 win over Green Bay in Horizon League play Thursday night at the Beeghly Center.

The win finishes a season sweep of the Phoenix, and also snaps a two-game skid for the Penguins (11-10, 5-6).

“I’m real happy for our guys, much-needed,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “It was not the prettiest game for either team, but to hold a team to 50 inside your building, give our guys a lot of credit.”

YSU held Green Bay (4-15, 3-7) to a 19-for-50 night overall, and the Phoenix hit just two of their 10 shots from beyond the arc. YSU also forced 13 turnovers, and scored 12 points off of those takeaways.

On the other end, Dwayne Cohill led the way with 18 points, while Michael Akuchie tallied 13 points and seven rebounds. Will Dunn turned in another stellar performance, racking up 11 points and eight rebounds after scoring 20 at Purdue Fort Wayne on Sunday. Shemar Rathan-Mayes added 10 points.

Dunn’s recent breakout comes as no surprise to Akuchie.

“He’s a confident dude. He comes in to work every single day, regardless of what his last game was,” Akuchie said. “He comes in early to practice, stays late. … It’s not just one or two good games. He’s going to consistently have good games. He’s a confident dude; we all have faith in him. He’s going to keep doing his thing for sure.”

Cohill and Akuchie were critical in helping to close things out. After Green Bay had clipped the Penguin advantage to 52-47, the duo scored all 11 of YSU’s final points, including an 8-0 burst after the lead was trimmed to five.

Akuchie kicked that off with a second-chance layup off his own miss, and then Cohill followed with a jumper. On the ensuing Phoenix possession, Rathan-Mayes swiped the ball from Kamari McGee and dished to Akuchie for a breakaway slam, and then Cohill finished the run with a drive to the basket.

Though it wasn’t YSU’s highest output of the year, the Penguins did manage a 27-for-56 night from the field. However, there were lulls here and there that allowed Green Bay to stick around.

“We kind of notice we get into these stretches where we’re just not scoring. We might get stops (on defense), but we’re just not scoring,” Akuchie said. “We just know we have to be better at that, just recognizing it and then getting into flows and landing that knockout punch.”

Calhoun credited part of that to Green Bay’s pack line defense, which forced YSU to take 23 shots from deep, but pointed out that when the threes aren’t falling, the Penguins need to drive inside.

“We got to mix up our sets, do a better job as coaches to get that thing downhill, drive the ball and get an easy basket. We had a couple of those (lulls) today,” he added.

The game briefly took an ugly turn with about 40 seconds to go, as Rathan-Mayes and McGee drew matching flagrant 2 fouls and were ejected from the game. Rathan-Mayes was battling with Japannah Kellogg in the paint, before Kellogg elbowed Rathan-Mayes in the head.

Rathan-Mayes took exception and stormed back after Kellogg and threw a punch before McGee intervened and shoved Rathan-Mayes.

Calhoun said he doesn’t think Rathan-Mayes will draw a suspension from the Horizon League, and added, “It’s a shame that he reacted like that, but I think (it’s) young people in the heat of battle. Sometimes it gets chippy, and I thought the officials did a great job of ending it right then and there and did a good job of getting both players removed from the game. … It’s a teaching moment. Everything happens, and you have to try to teach. I think it’s just a (flagrant 2). I think he’ll be okay.”

The Penguins host Milwaukee on Saturday with a chance to bury the Panthers into a hefty deficit in the standings. YSU sits at seventh overall, while the Panthers are eighth and presently are a half-game back of the Penguins.

Youngstown State took the first matchup, 70-68, and Milwaukee lost to Robert Morris on Thursday, 77-53.

Calhoun wants to see his squad build off its victory and keep the momentum going as the January slate comes to a close.

“It’s not where you start; it’s not what happens in the middle. It’s how you finish,” he said. “That’s really how sports are. How does this group want to be remembered? How does this group want to end up in the standings? I have all the faith in them that we’re going to keep playing well at the right team and get this thing to really mesh.”

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