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Disappearing defense

Penguins give up 90 in OT loss

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes — Donel Cathcart III, right, of Youngstown State drives inside of Illinois-Chicago defender Michael Diggins during the second half of the Penguins’ 90-83 overtime loss at Beeghly Center on Thursday.

YOUNGSTOWN — No excuses. The time has passed for those pleasantries, especially after Thursday’s 90-83 overtime loss to UIC.

This Youngstown State University men’s basketball is a shell of its former self as YSU has gone 1-2 thus far on a homestand which has two games remaining. So much for a team that was 8-0 at the Beeghly Center coming into this five-game set in Youngstown. YSU is now 9-2 at home and its defense has evaporated.

Free-throw shooting also has been costly. With about 8 minutes remaining, YSU (12-11, 5-5 Horizon League) was 8-of-10 from the charity stripe. The Penguins were then 6-of-13 the rest of the way.

“It’s a lot different shooting them early in the game than it is later,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “The game last Saturday (win against Green Bay) we made those shots. Today we didn’t. That’s the tough part about basketball. When the ball goes in, everybody’s happy. The ball didn’t go in tonight, everybody’s disappointed.”

The Penguins have a drill during practice in which the team is split into two groups. They go around, each shooting two free throws for a duration of five minutes. Each miss is minus-three points. A make is one point. One side won by about 20 points during Wednesday’s practice.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes — Jelani Simmons hangs on the rim after a big dunk late in the game against UIC.

The gap between UIC (10-13, 5-5) seemed bigger as the Flames were 16-of-21 from the line. At the time YSU was 8-of-10 from the line, UIC was 1-of-2. They went 15-of-19 the remainder of the game.

“It’s pretty much focusing and closing the game,” said YSU’s Naz Bohannon, who had a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds. “We’ve got to be able to go up to the line, knock them down and close the game. There’s no reason every game at Beeghly should come down to one possession when we were up nine.”

The Penguins took a 70-61 lead with 3:41 remaining as Jelani Simmons had a steal on one end and a two-handed slam on the other end to give the less than 1,600 in attendance a reason to cheer.

UIC kept pecking away at the YSU lead. Michael Akuchie, who had eight points and 10 rebounds, made 1-of-2 from the foul line for a 72-68 lead with 1:41 remaining.

Marcus Ottey, who had a team-high 22 points, made a jumper with 53 seconds left and the game was tied at 72.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes — Naz Bohannon (right) takes a shot over Michael Diggins (left) of UIC during the second half. Bohannon had a career-high 25 points in the losing effort.

YSU’s Darius Quisenberry, who had 16 points, and UIC’s Godwin Boahen, who had 13 points, traded 3-pointers with 30 seconds left as the game was tied at 75.

The Penguins had the last shot. The ball was back in Quisenberry’s hands with about 25 seconds remaining near the half-court stripe. He slowly dribbled near the Y on the floor signaling to the remaining four on the floor. Quisenberry wanted to get the lane cleared and kept waving like he wanted to drive.

Time was running down to less than 10 seconds and a decision had to be made. The 6-foot-1 guard started to dribble in isolation as the 6-foot-8 Michael Diggins, who had 18 points for UIC, was guarding him. Quisenberry, who has had the propensity for game-winning shots, attempted a 3-pointer with 5 seconds remaining. The shot rattled in and out.

Was that the shot YSU wanted at the end of regulation?

“We were trying to run a certain play,” Calhoun said. “We got the mismatch of what we’re trying to do is get DQ in a downhill situation where he can drive the ball. I don’t tell guys what to do. I put guys in that situation.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes — Darius Quisenberry celebrates after making a three late in the game.

“He made a read, missed the shot. It is what it is. I’ll live with that. Darius has been very good for us for two years. He just missed a shot.”

Devin Morgan added 13 points for YSU, while UIC’s Braelen Bridges scored 20 and Tarkus Ferguson had 10.

The Flames outscored the Penguins 15-8 in overtime. YSU was 2-of-11 from the floor and 4-of-8 from the line in the extra 5 minutes.

Before the Penguins can even worry about Saturday’s game against IUPUI, they have to get back to defense. YSU held teams to around 67 points a game when it won it’s first two Horizon League games. That hardcore, intense defense has taken a hiatus since then.

YSU beat UIC 70-64 in Chicago, a much better defensive effort than that which was displayed Thursday — giving up 90. It’s not who this team is, never has been this season, until recently.

The Penguins held nationally-ranked Louisville and West Virginia to less than 80 points, even leading the Mountaineers at halftime of that Dec. 21 game at the Covelli Centre.

UIC outrebounded YSU 44-39 and had a 46-32 advantage in points in the paint — two stats the Penguins were dominating earlier in the season.

“Beyond the free throws and missed shots in the end, clock management and a few bad shots, we’ve really got to get back to our defense,” Calhoun said. “We can’t continue to let teams come in here and score the ball. Today was 90 points. That’s not who we are. We’re not going to win like that.”

How does YSU turn the corner on its season and not keep backsliding?

“It’s got to be player driven,” Bohannon said. “It’s on us. Coach can’t get out there and play defense for us. There’s no reason why we’re giving up 80 points, 90 points to teams in our league. We didn’t give up 80 points to a West Virginia team.

“We have to go in, dig deep into ourselves and realize nothing is going to change until we want to change it.”

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