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Penguins rally for win

Late surge lifts YSU to first-round win

Corresponent photo / Robert Hayes The Penguins celebrate with coach Jason Slay, right, following a victory in the first round of Horizon League tournament Tuesday in Youngstown.

YOUNGSTOWN — Naz Bohannon went high in the air with 21.9 seconds left. He grabbed a rebound as he’s done so many times before, and was fouled.

The Lorain native started clapping and yelling as the Youngstown State University men’s basketball junior forward started to make his way down to the other end of the court to shoot two free throws.

The official attendance said 2,110, but many more students were in the crowd — all standing in unison, cheering for the fifth-seeded Penguins. It’s been a long time coming, as the Penguins defeated eighth-seeded Milwaukee 63-57 in a Horizon League first-round game Tuesday.

“It felt good. It felt like it was secure,” said Bohannon, who had a game-high 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the floor. “We got the first one. Now we got three more to go for a championship.”

Fourth-seeded UIC easily handled ninth-seeded IUPUI on Tuesday 93-59 and will host YSU in a quarterfinal Thursday at the Gentle Center on the Loyola (Chicago) campus, as the UIC Pavilion is booked that evening. Tipoff is at 8 p.m.

Corresponent photo / Robert Hayes YSU’s Naz Bohannon had a game-high 20 points in the Penguins' 63-57 victory over Milwaukee.

The lower bowl in the Beeghly Center was almost at capacity with $10 tickets all around. The south end of general admission was full with YSU football players, track and field athletes and the pep band. Those indoor track and field stars were fresh of Sunday’s Horizon League championship at the WATTS and were honored at halftime.

The Beeghly Center, the last three games, felt like a tournament atmosphere. YSU has a 13-4 record here.

“I thought the crowd carried us again, similar to Wright State,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “Our guys fed off the people of Youngstown. When the news hits (Tuesday) night, if the fans are watching, I can’t say enough about the support here and the way they’ve rallied for our guys. They helped us win a lot of games.”

This is the program’s most wins since the 2012-13 season when YSU went 18-16 and went to the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

Milwaukee’s Darius Roy, who had a team-high 17 points, banked in a runner with 7:41 remaining. The Panthers held a 52-46 lead. YSU went on an 8-2 run to tie the game on Garrett Covington’s bucket in the paint with 5:29 left.

Correspondent / Robert Hayes Garrett Covington, left, shoots and makes a three over Te'Jon Lucas, right, late in the second half.

There were shot-clock violations, two straight on the Panthers. It was that lock-down defense the Penguins always preach and have performed all season. YSU is virtually unstoppable when it holds opponents to 70 points or less.

From there, it was all Penguins. Te’Jon Lucas, who had 15 points, made a shot with 6:51 remaining to put the Panthers (12-19) up 54-49. Milwaukee did not score again until 7 seconds left when Roy banked in a 3-pointer to cut the Penguins lead to 61-57.

“We bring our energy wherever we go, our defense carries with us as well,” said Darius Quisenberry, who had 12 points. “Wherever we go, our defense goes. I think that’s going to carry our offense as well. We’ll be fine if we have our defense with us.”

The crowd inside the Youngstown venue was virtually quiet in the first 20 minutes, except for a few minor outbursts by fans of the Panthers.

Lucas was inadvertently hit in the mouth in the first 2 minutes. He was stunned and sat on the Milwaukee bench for the first few minutes of the half.

It didn’t faze him or his backcourt mate, Roy, as the two combined for 5-for-8 shooting from 3-point range, as Milwaukee took a 36-26 lead at halftime. Roy and Lucas combined for 21 points in the first 20 minutes.

Bohannon found a driving Donel Cathcart III with 6:10 left as Milwaukee led 21-20. That’s all the closer the Penguins would get as Milwaukee shot 12-of-28 from the floor and 5-of-12 from 3-point range in the opening half.

The Panthers held a 17-12 advantage on the boards, including a 5-2 margin on offense. YSU, which usually dominates the board, finished the game with a 31-30 rebounding advantage.

Quisenberry said the key was to not let Roy and Lucas feel comfortable in the second half.

“Coach said to press up,” Quisenberry said. “We let them catch the ball and get into their shot and they were comfortable. We got them out of rhythm. That was the biggest piece, and pressing them.”

Ball-screen coverage was the key with Michael Akuchie (10 points) and Bohannon. Devin Morgan and Jelani Simmons each played their parts well.

“It’s a group effort,” Calhoun said. “If you hold somebody to 57 points, it’s not one particular guy. It’s a team effort defensively. I thought we just locked in the last 14 minutes, did our jobs, did our assignments. We really fed of this crowd.”

Energy and defense. That’s how this YSU team has won games all season.

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