Failing to finish

League’s best, NKU, closes out Penguins

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes Youngstown State’s Donel Cathcart III drives on Northern Kentucky’s Tyler Sharpe Saturday at Beeghly Center.

YOUNGSTOWN — Darius Quisenberry made a 3-pointer with about 9 minutes remaining. Youngstown State was so close to the dominant team in the Horizon League, Northern Kentucky.

As it has been for too many games this season, any shot of momentum became fleeting in the final 10 minutes. This time the Norse pulled away from the Penguins men’s basketball team Saturday at the Beeghly Center, 82-74.

Northern Kentucky outscored YSU 13-4 after the Quisenberry 3, after only leading 60-57.

Drew McDonald, a stout 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward, took over with 15 of his game-high 23 points.

“We’ve got to get a little bit tougher in those final 10 minutes,” said YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun, whose team is 6-15, 2-6. “You’re trying to encourage. You’re trying to be positive. I was going up and down the court, trying to get some energy, get some life. They responded. They played really hard.

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes Youngstown State’s Naz Bohannon, center, looks to rebound against Northern Kentucky’s Dantez Walton, left, and Paul Djoko, right.

“We’re just having those tough moments down the stretch.”

Defensively, the Norse (16-4, 6-1) hold teams to 67 points a game.

They held YSU freshman point guard Darius Quisenberry, hounding one of the most talented freshman in the Horizon and holding him to 10 points — about seven points below his league average.

The Norse had 13 offensive rebounds, although 11 were in the first half. Northern Kentucky outrebounded YSU 36 to 24. McDonald led with seven boards.

“They do a really nice job of crashing,” Calhoun said. “I think they’re tough. There’s nothing soft about those guys.”

YSU had eight assists and 11 turnovers, not a ratio any team desires. The Norse were imposing their will.

“It had everything to do with their defense,” Calhoun said. “They did a tremendous job in pick and roll coverage. That was the difference in the game. We couldn’t get the ball from side to side. I think our guys struggled with that. They exposed us on that.”

Donel Cathcart III led YSU with 16 points, while Antwan Maxwell added 13 off the bench. Garrett Covington scored 10.

YSU drove to the basket more than normal. Considering Quisenberry’s looks were limited by NKU, it was up to wings like Cathcart III to get things going by driving. YSU was 17-of-20 from the foul line, a marked improvement over most games where the Penguins shoot less than 69 percent.

“We work on driving every day with (assistant) coach (Paul) Molinari,” Cathcart said. “That’s building our confidence to go.”

Calhoun had to head to the airport after Saturday’s 1 p.m. game for a 6 p.m., flight to Houston. YSU is off until Jan. 26 at Cleveland State. Calhoun and assistant Jason Slay are currently out recruiting, something necessary when you’re trying to build a program and establish a culture.

YSU is likely to resume practice on Tuesday, to reset itself and prepare for the stretch run of the league season.

The top eight teams in the Horizon League advance to the postseason tournament. The nine and 10 teams remain home.

Calhoun knows this and hopes his team is one of those eight, even though the 10 seed has advanced to the championship game in the past.

“I wasn’t for that,” said Calhoun, whose team is currently ninth in the league. “That’s not what we should’ve have done as a league. I’m not the commissioner. I’m not a president. I’m not an athletic director. I think every team in the Horizon League deserves a chance to play in a conference tournament.

“We have to put ourselves in position to get into the tournament. As you can see, this team can be really dangerous.”

YSU is a long way from Northern Kentucky, in more ways than just basketball.

“This is a program that’s going to play in March,” Calhoun said. “They’re going to be in the NIT or NCAA Tournament. Let’s not kid ourselves. They’re the cream of the crop. They’re 16-4 for a reason. They played 11 home games so far.

“They got great players. They’ve got a great coach, great fan base, great arena. Northern Kentucky is a big-time program. It’s a program I have a lot of respect for and my hat goes off to them.

“I told (NKU coach) John (Brannen) I hope they win the (Horizon League) tournament. If we don’t win, I’d love to see them win the tournament and let’s get him out of the league, get him an $800-, 900-thousand dollar job. I’m sure he’d take the payday because he does a great job.”

As for YSU, the Penguins have to handle business for more than the first 30 minutes.

“Everybody has to come together as a team and finish them out,” Cathcart III said. “You’re thinking how you could’ve won out there, should’ve, would’ve, could’ve.”