Penguins do the dirty work in 1-point win at Oakland
ROCHESTER, Mich. — Michael Akuchie is there in the gym, about 30 minutes after a Youngstown State University home game. He’s bouncing the ball, shooting short, mid-range and 3-point shots, working on all facets of his game.
John Sally is there as well. He hones his craft constantly, trying to bide his time until his number 50 is called to the court.
On Thursday it was in a 75-74 men’s basketball win at Oakland University.
The two combined for 21 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots, both by Sally off the YSU bench. The Penguins (7-16, 3-7 Horizon League) manhandled the Golden Grizzlies in bench points, 38-11.
YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun, whose team snapped a three-game losing streak, saw how both Sally, a 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman, and Akuchie, a 6-8 sophomore, made their presence known against an Oakland team known for its dominant low-post game. YSU outrebounded the Golden Grizzlies (10-13, 6-4), 41-40, and had a 16-12 edge in offensive rebounds.
“We told ourselves stay with it, stay together, just keep rebounding, get stop by stop and you’re going to come out with a win,” said Akuchie, who had 11 points and nine rebounds.
The Penguins were sacrificing their bodies for most every loose ball in the second half, trying to keep it out of the hands of Oakland and 6-11 Brad Brechting, who did his damage with 21 points and 18 rebounds.
“I thought John Sally and Michael Akuchie tonight were really our heroes,” said Calhoun, whose YSU team had not won at Oakland since 2016. “Darius (Quisenberry) is going to get a lot of the headlines as he should. Really good player. Made huge plays.”
Quisenberry, arguably one of the best freshmen in the Horizon League, constantly drove at the basket in the last 10 minutes. Devin Morgan hit a 25-footer with 12:10 left to tie the game at 50. Sally’s jumper from the wing gave YSU a 56-54 lead with 7:40 left.
Quisenberry got the ball to Garrett Covington on an inside-out play with 5:09 left as Covington buried a 3-pointer. He had 11 points and was 3-of-6 from the floor, 3-of-3 from 3 and 2-of-2 from the line.
Quisenberry had a key swing as he drove with 1:49 left, tying the game at 66. He then stole the ball and dished it out to Covington for another 3 as YSU led 69-66.
“Coach always talks about making winning plays down the stretch,” said Quisenberry, who had a game-high 23 points. “I was like, give me the ball. I’ll make winning plays for us.”
Quisenberry drove again with 1:09 remaining and was fouled. He didn’t complete the three-point play. It was one of three straight missed free throws.
Braden Norris made the back end of two free throws with 4.9 seconds left. Kamari Newman fouled Quisenberry on the inbounds 0.5 seconds later.
This time, the freshman from Springfield did not disappoint, making both ends for a 75-71 lead.
Jaevin Cumberland, who had 19 points, made a 3 at the buzzer as YSU came away with a one-point win.
“Emotions really weren’t going,” Quisenberry said. “I was calm. I was like I’m going to hit these two and go home. That’s all I was saying, let’s go home.”
He went 30 minutes south to his hotel since YSU has a game Saturday at 1 p.m., at Detroit Mercy.
During the game, Quisenberry told Sally not to go for blocked shots. It was about playing fundamental defense.
“I was telling him keep playing,” Quisenberry said. “Make sure you box out. They kept getting rebounds over him because he tried to jump with them. I told him, you’re good. Just box out next time. They’re going to go.”
“Boxing out helped a lot because we started getting rebounds and it led to offense,” Sally said,
He had 10 points off the bench, a career high.
“I felt I had to alter the shots so my teammates could get the rebound to get out and go,” Sally said. “I wasn’t looking to make a huge difference on offense. I wanted to help out my teammates, make sure they’re getting offense right.”
That’s what teammates do, look out and help one another.
“My coach, coach (Rollie) Massimino told me good things are going to happen to good people,” Calhoun said. “Both John and Mike are really good people. They’re really good teammates.
“So much in sports nowadays it’s about being a good teammate. I’ve got really good kids in Mike and John and the rest of these guys. They’re really good kids. It’s a big win for us.”