The Youngstown State men's basketball team made a late charge but came up short in its gritty comeback bid in an 84-74 loss to Northern Kentucky in the semifinals of the 2017 Little Caesars Horizon League Men's Basketball Championship.
Two days after Jorden Kaufman's buzzer beater against top-seeded Oakland allowed the Penguins to catch the nation's attention as a possible Cinderella this March, YSU showed fight before seeing its 2016-17 season come to an end. The Penguins finish the season with a 13-21 record while NKU advances to play to the tournament final at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday.
YSU never led in the game, and Northern Kentucky closed the first half on a 12-2 run to go up 42-27 at halftime. That run was the difference in the game, though Youngstown State scored the first nine points of the second half to get within 42-36 and show it wasn't going to go quietly.
NKU withstood that run and ended up taking a 70-54 lead with just under seven minutes remaining. That's when the Penguins made one final push by making four 3-pointers during a 20-9 run over a four-minute stretch to get within 79-74 with 2:21 left. Matt Donlan hit back-to-back 3s to start the spurt, and he hit another to end it.
YSU got a stop on the defensive end, but a Northern Kentucky offensive rebound led to a 3-pointer by Dantez Walton, and the Penguins did not score for the rest of the game. NKU had nine offensive rebounds in the game, and they led to 18 second-chance points.
Cameron Morse scored a game-high 28 points, and Francisco Santiago had a big second half to finish with 15 points, nine rebounds and seven assists to lead YSU. Donlan finished with 14 points, and Kaufman had five while battling foul trouble in the first half.
Drew McDonald scored 26 points, and LaVone Holland scored 20 to lead the Norse.
McDonald started off hot by scoring 12 of NKU's first 22 points, and he scored seven straight for the Norse during a 7-1 run that put them up 22-14 with 11:47 left. YSU cut the deficit in half at 22-18 before the Norse went on an 8-1 spurt that created the game's first double-digit gap at 30-19.
A Morse basket got the Penguins back within 30-25 at the 4:47 mark, but NKU went on that 12-2 run over the final 4:19 to go up 42-27 at halftime.
The Norse shot 50 percent from the field for the game and went 13-for-27 from 3-point range. YSU shot 60 percent in the second half despite missing its final four shots and finished making 44.6 percent for the game. YSU was 8-for-18 from 3-point range.