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Energized Penguins

YSU stays unbeaten at home, toppling Robert Morris

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU junior Michael Akuchie lets out a scream after scoring on an and-one bucket during the second half in the Penguins’ 81-70 win over Robert Morris on Wednesday at the Beeghly Center.

YOUNGSTOWN — Jerrod Calhoun had his two oldest daughters standing just off to the right of the postgame media table. It was one of the few times on Wednesday when the Youngstown State University men’s basketball coach relaxed.

His wife, Sarah, and, youngest daughter, Quinn, were waiting in the hallway outside the team’s film room, where the press conference was being held.

It seemed like the effects of the pregame coffee started to wind down.

“We really wanted this game,” Calhoun said after YSU’s 81-70 win over a battle-tested Robert Morris team at the Beeghly Center. “I harped on it with our guys. You’ve got to win home games.”

YSU is 4-0 at the Beeghly Center. The Penguins had five players in double figures, led by Darius Quisenberry’s game-high 23 points.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Jamir Thomas puts up a shot over an RMU defender during the second half.

“When we get five guys in double figures, we’re going to be really good,” Calhoun said. “Tonight, we looked like an offensive basketball team.”

His team embraced the third-year coach’s energy to take an early 14-7 lead. Things started to falter after a 13-4 run by Robert Morris (2-8) for the Colonials’ first lead at 20-18 on Sayveon McEwen’s 3-pointer. He had 13 points off the bench and Jalen Hawkins added a team-high 17 for a Robert Morris team which has played Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Marquette this season. Hawkins also came off the bench as no Colonial starter reached double figures.

YSU (4-5) clung to 39-33 halftime lead — mainly because of seven 3-pointers. The Penguins finished 8 of 19 from beyond the arc.

Questions were present at the break. Could the Penguins solve RMU’s zone defense, which kept YSU off the boards? Would the Penguins come out strong in the first 5 to 7 minutes of the second half?

The last question was answered as Jelani Simmons, who had 12 points, swished a 3 with 13:06 left to extend the YSU lead to 56-44. That same energetic Penguins team re-emerged in the second half. In the first 4 minutes, YSU got three straight stops.

The rebounding numbers ended up tied at 39.

“We’ve got to win the rebounding battle every night,” Quisenberry said. “We’ve got to box out better.”

However, Naz Bohannon did his part with a game-high 11 rebounds.

YSU wasn’t shooting 3s in the second half, only 1 of 5 from that range.

Instead, there were more than a handful of passes to the post and subsequent three-point opportunities.

“Jamir (Thomas) played well tonight,” said Quisenberry, whose team shot 50 percent in the second half. “He came in and had a productive night. Mike finished under the rim. Naz is always a bully down there. I think we’re throwing it more. Guys are starting to finish more, which is really good for us.”

Calhoun saw too many of those plays run against YSU in convincing losses at Akron and Central Michigan.

“We don’t want to give those up and at the same time we want to put an emphasis on finishing plays,” Calhoun said. “I thought throughout the game there were various opportunities where we did.”

Akuchie had eight of his 13 points in the first half — including two 3-pointers to give YSU a 6-0 lead. Garrett Covington and Thomas each had 10 points.

It was Quisenberry who was a driving force, as he is in most games, to get to the basket for the Penguins. Couple of dribbles on the drive, power up toward the basket and fall back first toward the floor.

It’s something as a team YSU works on during practice as it is the offensive player who had more of the advantage when heading toward the paint.

“The game’s changed as you can see,” Calhoun said. “The calls are different. I like the way the game’s called with the verticality rules with jumping. We practice that a lot.”

It was a tenuous time for the Penguins in the last five-and-a-half minutes as YSU held a 69-53 lead off of Simmons’ fast break.

Robert Morris started to go into a full-court press for the remainder of the game, cutting the lead to six (76-70) with 45 seconds remaining.

The Colonials gave YSU a bit of everything, zone, man-to-man, full-court press.

“They threw a lot of things at us and our guys responded,” Calhoun said. “I thought everybody was engaged the last two days. We were not really excited the way we played at Central. I think every game is a learning experience. You can sometimes take it the wrong way when you lose. Our guys didn’t.”

As far as Calhoun’s up-beat nature during the game, it’s something Quisenberry sees quite often during practice.

“He’s always like that,” Quisenberry said. “Most coaches stay calm. He’s hype with us. He’s excited for us. It’s good to see.”

On Saturday, YSU travels to Western Michigan for the last non-conference game of the season. Tipoff is at 2 p.m.

“We’ve got to be ready to go,” Calhoun said.

On Wednesday, the Penguins were ready from the tip.

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