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No letdown this time for Penguins

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Devin Morgan fires up a 3-pointer for Youngstown State on Saturday against IUPUI.

YOUNGSTOWN — Trepidation. Darius Quisenberry knew the feeling all too well.

It has hovered over him gloomy like a darkened cloud ready to pour impending doom.

Overtime. Missed opportunities. This Youngstown State men’s basketball team had many over the last three games, going 1-2 in this five-game homestand.

Not this time as the Penguins beat IUPUI, 91-76, to sweep the season series on Saturday.

YSU (13-11, 6-5) took a 14-point lead into intermission against IUPUI. The lead quickly diminished to five in the first 6 minutes of the second half.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Michael Akuchie shoots a 3-pointer over Jaylen Minnett (left) of IUPUI. Akuchie had 15 points.

This time, things would be different. The YSU sophomore guard could be seen motioning to his teammates from the bench, huddling them in other situations.

He dribbled near the half-court stripe, waiting for some help. He found it in junior forward Naz Bohannon, who set a pick. Quisenberry dribbled near the Penguins bench and let a 3-pointer fly from his fingertips in the final minute. Nothing but net as YSU wrapped up the victory.

No quick shots. Properly utilizing the shot clock. Getting back to that defensive mentality that made this team so successful — not giving up 90-plus points.

“I think we just came into the huddle and said, ‘It’s not happening tonight, not tonight,'” said Quisenberry, who had a game-high 22 points. “We’re going to lock in and let’s go get a kill, which is three stops in a row.”

The Penguins are 6-1 when the Springfield native scores at least 20 points this season. He had a stretch of three games against West Virginia, IUPUI and UIC earlier this season where he was playing some of his best basketball. So were these Penguins.

Defensively, these Penguins were hard to defeat — not letting teams surpass more than a 68-point average. Boxing out. Rebounding for second and third chances on possessions. They had an innate tenacity, which was virtually extinct for the past couple of weeks.

Saturday, YSU held significant advantage in points in the paint, 44 to 28, along with a 38 to 23 rebounding advantage. The Penguins dominated in second-chance points 21 to 6. YSU had 19 assists to eight turnovers.

It was almost like a reunion tour of once prominent band. This group was getting back together. That’s what it seemed like for the better part of the first 20 minutes.

The Penguins held the Jaguars to 34 points at halftime as they couldn’t get much going offensively against a stout YSU defense.

“I think we got away from that a little bit, just playing teams fast paced and things like that,” Quisenberry said. “I think we got back to it tonight, really locking in on the scout (scouting report), what teams do, what plays they run and being at help side — being at the right place at the right time.”

This was a YSU team which was up by nine with less than 4 minutes remaining before losing in overtime on Thursday against UIC. This wasn’t a repeat of Thursday.

“How do we learn from that,” YSU junior forward Michael Akuchie said. “Going over the tape. Teaching. Learning what we could’ve done better. We say all the time, ‘Make sure we stay together.’ Possessions. Make sure we get stops. Make sure we run the clock. Make sure we execute. Just the little things we know how to do in practice.

“We know how to this. Just stay true to ourselves and we do what we did.”

He had 15 points and nine rebounds, including 3-of-7 from 3-point range. YSU had a season-high 12 3s. Naz Bohannon had 12 points and seven rebounds. Devin Morgan added 11 points off the bench.

Akuchie follows the lead of Bohannon, who is the team’s leading rebounder.

“If I can be close to him (points and rebounds) every night, I can help our team, regardless if I make shots or miss shots,” Akuchie said. “As long as I can be above him or close to him, some nights he’s grabbing everything. I feel like that’s one thing I can control. That’s just playing hard. That’s just energy. That’s just toughness. That’s one thing I’ve taken from his game.”

YSU had its largest crowd of the year (4,633) as the Penguins improve to 2-2 on the latest homestand and improve to 10-2 at the Beeghly Center.

YSU has a week off before it hosts Cleveland State on Feb. 8, starting at 6 p.m.

“We did not want the fans leaving here again feeling disappointed,” Penguins coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “For a city, sports brings people together. That’s what it did for our team. We’re all here for a purpose, to represent this university. We’ve got a chance. In 19 years, in the Horizon League, we’ve only had two winning seasons. These fans out here, they’ve suffered enough. They really have. They’ve been through a lot of ups and a lot of downs. We want to make sure we finish this thing out right and get some momentum heading into the tournament.”

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