By Christina Sainovich
The Youngstown State University men’s basketball team has kept a 5-2 record since Dec. 15.
The Penguins handled Southeast Missouri State University with ease in a 65-50 win to begin their hot streak. In the following game, the team battled tooth and nail with the No. 25 team in the country, West Virginia University. Ultimately, it fell 75-65, with sophomore Darius Quisenberry leading the way, scoring 22 points.
YSU is currently sitting at No. 2 in the conference with a 4-1 record. Senior guard Devin Morgan said the team has found its rhythm.
“We’ve had some games early in the season that we thought could have gone a different way. … I think now that we didn’t get over the hump early in the season, now the past couple of games we’ve been able to actually get over the hump,” Morgan said.
One week later, YSU hit the road to open up Horizon League play against Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and then the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The men beat Indiana 83-73, and Quisenberry totaled 23 points and six assists. Junior Naz Bohannon grabbed 11 rebounds in the win. Two days later, the Penguins took on the University of Illinois and came out on top 70-64, boosting them to 2-0 in conference play.
Morgan said the team members believe and trust in each other.
“Confidence is definitely at an all-time high,” Morgan said. “We have the city behind us. We’re playing for each other.”
The road trip continued Dec. 30 as Cleveland State University handed the team its first conference loss of the season, finishing at 82-74.
The team bounced back last Thursday when Quisenberry made a last-second layup to push the Penguins to victory against Oakland University in their conference home opener, with a final score of 61-60. Michael Akuchie recorded his second career double-double with 20 points and 10 boards.
YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said Akuchie is key to the Penguins’ success.
“Mike [Akuchie] is an important piece to the puzzle,” Calhoun said. “He’s a stretch guy that can make shots from the perimeter.”
Calhoun also said Akuchie has stepped up on defense to help the team.
“I thought he did a tremendous job rebounding the basketball in the Oakland game,” he said. “We can’t just rely on Naz [Bohannon] rebounding the ball. It’s got to be a group effort, and I think that’s something Mike [Akuchie] lately has done a much better job of getting to the glass.”
Calhoun said Akuchie was not the only player to step up during this hot start to conference play. Junior guard Garrett Covington has stepped up his play over the last few games.
“He [Covington] has been putting a lot of extra time into the gym. … He’s a guy that we rely on,” Calhoun said. “He usually guards the other team’s best player. … He’s getting comfortable. … I expect him to just get better and better.”
Morgan said defense has been a constant and the identity of the Penguins all season.
“I think our offense has gotten better as conference [play] has gone along,” Morgan said. “We’ve been playing great defense this year.”