Buzzer beater

Freshman Covington wins game for YSU

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Youngstown State freshman Garrett Covington gets a hug from his father, John Covington, Wednesday night at the Beeghly Center after the younger Covington sank a game-winning shot in the Penguins’ 75-73 victory over Oakland.

YOUNGSTOWN — Garrett Covington had the ball under the Oakland basket with 6.4 seconds remaining.

He looked to pass to Cameron Morse, who has made his Youngstown State career on shooting game-winning 3-pointers. Morse was trailed by a defender as the five seconds to throw it to a teammate was winding down.

Covington had to look elsewhere.

Covington found Braun Hartfield nearby as the 6-foot-6 Cleveland native dribbled up the court and looked like he was going to pull up for a 3 in front of the Youngstown State bench.

Hartfield slightly bobbled the ball, but hoisted a 15 footer. The ball careened off the rim and Covington, who was trailing the play, saw the ball come off and into his grasp.

Youngstown State’s Braun Hartfield, right, shoots over Oakland’s James Beck.

The 6-5 freshman from Carmel, Ind., quickly went from rebounding mode to shooter as he let the ball go with 0.2 seconds remaining from about 6 feet away.

The ball was in the air when the final buzzer illuminated the backboard with bright red color.

Covington backpedaled as he saw the shot swirl around and eventually go in for Wednesday’s game-winning basket, 75-73.

“When I saw it roll, I was like, ‘Oh my God,'” Covington said. “That’s when you could see me running back.”

He quickly hit the 3-point line and sprinted to the white brick wall with the block, red Penguins highlighted in a black outline. There he was met by an onslaught of rushing teammates as they swarmed Covington and jumped up and down behind the Oakland basket.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Youngstown State’s Jaylen Benton, left, battles Oakland’s Isaiah Brock for possession.

“When you see the kids emotion, the entire bench coming on to the court. That’s what college athletics is about,” said YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun, whose team improves to 8-20, 6-9 Horizon League.

Covington blocked a Kendrick Nunn 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds, swatting it out by Oakland’s bench. The YSU freshman usually draws the opponent’s leading scorer, and none come greater than Nunn, who is the second-leading scorer in the country behind Oklahoma’s Trae Young.

He held Nunn to 18 points, six below his average, and 14 shot attempts.

“That’s the player of the game right there. He was phenomenal, honestly,” Morse said of Covington.

Covington, who had 18 points, wanted to deny Nunn the ball at all costs, even seeing the Oakland leading scorer come off a screen. Covington beat him to the ball in the second half, used blazing speed reserved for sprinters that YSU track and field coach Brian Gorby coaches, and pulled away for an easy lay-up.

It was one of 18 Oakland turnovers which YSU turned into 25 points.

“It’s ironic that the guy that played the best defense the entire game goes and makes the winning basket,” said Calhoun, whose team had six turnovers to 13 assists. “Sometimes the basketball gods look down upon you and they reward hard work.”

Oakland (16-11, 8-6) had a shot-clock violation to end the first half, as the Penguins went into the break with a 38-36 lead.

There was no first-half pull away like the Golden Grizzlies had more than a month ago in Rochester Hills, Mich. YSU made sure there was no letdown in the final 20 minutes, either.

The Penguins just saw Tyree Robinson leap in from the paint and execute a thunderous two-handed slam to down a missed 3-pointer by Jaylen Benton. It gave YSU a four-point lead.

That evaporated quickly, as Calhoun saw his youthful team was no longer playing aggressively, what YSU needed to do against a physical club like the Golden Grizzlies, who held a 40-28 rebounding advantage.

Calhoun even drew a technical, trying to rev up his team. He is a coach who is constantly encouraging his team on the sidelines through his positive gestures.

Jalen Hayes led Oakland with 19 points, while Isaiah Brock (14) and Nick Daniels (13) also reached double figures.

Morse, lost in all of this last-second madness, had a game-high 26 points — scoring more than 20 for the third straight game and starting to show signs of the scorer he was the past two seasons, striking fear into Horizon League opponents.

Oakland quashed his outside shots and forced the senior guard to dribble inside, where Morse cradled the ball and drove toward the basket — resulting in an easy points at the foul line.

YSU eventually went on a 9-0 run to end the game in the final 2:30.

“I thought our kids really responded the last four minutes and really reflected our city of toughness, grit,” Calhoun said. “They kept staying with it tonight. That’s why we won.”

Friday, YSU hosts Detroit Mercy at 7 p.m., as the Penguins seek their third straight win.

The Penguins are in sixth place in the Horizon League, a game back of fifth-place Milwaukee (7-8).

YSU is in its current position not only because of Covington’s game-winning shot and defense, but it doesn’t hurt he’s comes from a great family as well.

Covington’s hard work and personality is something that resonates with Calhoun.

“He is what hopefully one day my two daughters will marry,” Calhoun said.