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Penguins open season at Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Eight returners, five transfers, four new recruits and a whole lot of early-season questions.

It was an offseason of transition for the Youngstown State men’s basketball team, as the Penguins were tasked with replacing some of their brightest stars from a season ago.

Gone are YSU’s top two leading scorers from the 2020-2021 campaign, Naz Bohannon (16.5 ppg) and Darius Quisenberry (14.9 ppg), among others. They transferred to Clemson and Fordham, respectively.

But the Penguins aren’t without talent on this year’s squad, and Jerrod Calhoun is pleased with the additions YSU was able to make via the transfer portal.

Former four-star recruit Dwayne Cohill joined the Penguins after spending three seasons — the last of which he missed due to injury — at Atlantic 10 powerhouse Dayton. He and Tevin Olison, a two-time NAIA All-American from the University of the Cumberlands, are expected to crack the starting five in the early goings.

“The portal’s been good to us. I think we did a really good job of addressing some of our needs,” YSU head coach Jerrod Calhoun said.

Of Cohill and Olison, he added, “Those are two guys that we’re going to rely on pretty heavily — two really good guards. Both guys are older and have been around college basketball for a long time. I think they’re going to have a big impact.”

Calhoun said he expects Chris Shelton, a transfer from Hampton University, to contribute as well. Shelton led the nation in 3-point shooting last season.

And, of course, the Penguins have some returning firepower, too. Shemar Rathan-Mayes returns to YSU after leading the Penguins in 3-pointers made last season with 40. He also made the All-Horizon League Freshman Team a season ago.

Also back are fifth-year seniors Michael Akuchie and Garrett Covington, undoubtedly the team leaders and heart and soul of this year’s squad. Akuchie averaged 9.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last season, while Covington contributed 12.5 points and 4.6 boards per game.

“Those three kids have been great,” Calhoun said of the returning trio, and also highlighted Jamir Thomas (senior, forward) and Daniel Ogoro (redshirt sophomore, guard).

“I would say those five guys are kind of the pulse, kind of the leaders of the pack,” Calhoun said. “They’ve been great. So you’re going to rely on those guys. They’ve played a lot of minutes for us here at Youngstown, and they’ve done a great job so far.”

Covington says the roster is meshing well, and expects the Penguins to shoot better in the 2021-2022 campaign.

“Last year we were ranked closer to the bottom (YSU was 10th out of 12 Horizon League teams in field goal percentage), but this year I think it’s going to completely flip,” Covington said.

YSU will put that optimism and blend of new talent and returning veterans to the test tonight, as the Penguins visit Penn State for an 8:30 p.m. season opener that will be televised on the B1G Network.

Like Youngstown State, the Nittany Lions feature a heavy dose of new faces. Penn State, which finished 11-14 last season against a Big Ten-only schedule, welcomed five new players via the portal and three as walk-ons. PSU does not have a freshman on its team.

Via transfers, Penn State added Jaheam Cornwall (Gardner-Webb), Jalen Pickett (Siena), Greg Lee (Western Michigan), Jalanni White (Canisius) and Jevonnie Scott (South Plans, a junior college). Walk-ons Dan Conlan (D3 Dickinson), Irekefe Oweh (D2 Thomas Aquinas) and Ishaan Jagiasi, who did not previously play college basketball. Cornwall and Pickett have each eclipsed 1,000 career points, as Cornwall has 1,213 and Pickett 1,139.

Also new to the Penn State program this year is head coach Micah Shrewsberry, who spent the previous two years as an assistant under Matt Painter at Purdue. He also spent six years as an assistant with the Boston Celtics.

Calhoun said he doesn’t personally know Shrewsberry, but felt “it was an awesome hire.”

Shrewsberry and his newcomers have seven returners alongside them, including the team’s leading scorer from last year, forward Seth Lundy (10.1 ppg). Fifth-year senior John Harrar, another forward, also is back after earning All-Big Ten honorable mention last season. He averaged 8.8 rebounds per game.

Covington says the Penguins are expecting a guard-heavy Nittany Lions squad that likes “to shoot a lot of three-pointers.”

He added, “So we know what we have to do to contain those drives and not let them beat us by shooting threes. (We’ll) just stick to our principles, what we’ve been taught throughout these past few weeks and even in the summer, and just stay locked in.”

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