YOUNGSTOWN — With its offense in full gear, Youngstown State just needed its defense to match the effort. In the game’s final 12 minutes, that’s exactly what the Penguins got.
YSU gave up just 12 points in the game’s final 11:25 and rallied from a double-digit deficit to top visiting UIC in Horizon League play Thursday at the Beeghly Center, 88-79.
The win completed a season sweep of the Flames (10-15, 6-10), and gave YSU (17-11, 11-7) a much-needed bounceback victory after Sunday’s disappointing loss to Robert Morris. YSU’s 11th league win is also a new program record since joining the Horizon League.
“We knew how big this game was for us, being that we lost the last one. So we all just had to come together in the huddle, I think after the 12-minute media timeout, we just all came together (and said) we have to get stops, because they went on a little run on us,” said junior Dwayne Cohill. “They went on like an 11-2 run or something like that, so we all just came together (and said) we have to get stops and we have to just close this game out and find a way to win.”
The Penguins faced a pair of 11-point deficits in the second half, trailing 56-45 at the under-16 and they also trailed 61-50 not much later.
But Youngstown State surged back, holding the Flames to just five points from the 11:25 mark through the under-4 media timeout, and continued its impressive night offensively.
Cohill led that charge with a career-high 31 points and added eight rebounds and seven assists. He shot 4-of-6 from 3-point range and 13-for-15 from the free-throw line. He’s scored in double figures in each of YSU’s last 14 games.
“Dwayne was really, really special. He’s a young man that’s worked really hard,” said YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun. “He’s really, really confident, plays with great emotion, passion. Once he got going tonight, we just wanted to get the ball in his hands, move the defense, get him attacking, and I thought a lot of guys stepped up. This was a really important game.”
Michael Akuchie chipped in 20 points and 11 boards, his 14th double-double of the season, while Shemar Rathan-Mayes scored 13 points and Myles Hunter added 10 points and four rebounds.
Rathan-Mayes scored 10 of his points in the final 13:07 of the game after being benched just seven seconds into the second half after giving up an and-1 to UIC’s Jalen Warren.
“He got beat on that drive, and we’d had enough of giving up straight line drives,” Calhoun said. “So he came out; he wasn’t happy. He and I talked it out — we’ve got a really good relationship. … And he came back and he responded. He made a lot of tough twos, he made a big three. … (Shemar) really did a nice job when he came back.”
Defensively, Cohill and Akuchie both said in the postgame press conference that concentration and locking in were the keys to flipping the switch.
“I think everybody just took pride in guarding their man,” Cohill said. “They were trying to take advantage of mismatches. … Whoever they thought was a mismatch on the court, so we all just came together and whoever they try to put on the ball, take it personally and we’re going to be there to help you. It’s a team defense, but it starts up top with whoever’s guarding the ball.”
Damaria Franklin led UIC with 23 points and nine rebounds, while Zion Griffin scored 16 points and Jace Carter added 17. Jalen Warren tacked on 12 points and eight assists.
The Penguins host IUPUI for Senior Day on Saturday. The Jaguars picked up their first Horizon League victory and Division I victory Thursday with a 66-56 win at Robert Morris.
Presently sitting at sixth in the league standings, YSU will need to keep stringing wins together in order to climb up into the top four.
“It’s going to be an emotional, sad day on Saturday, but we’re not done yet,” Calhoun said of the Senior Day festivities. “There’s a lot to be done here down the stretch.”