Penguins Battle But Fall 72-71 in Opening Round of Little Caesars Horizon League Basketball Championship

Naz Bohannon (Photo by Jose Juarez)
Naz Bohannon (Photo by Jose Juarez)

The Youngstown State men's basketball team clawed all night and had a chance to win in the final seconds but fell 72-71 to Cleveland State in the first round of the 2018 Little Caesars Horizon League Basketball Championship.

The Penguins' first season under head coach Jerrod Calhoun ends with an 8-24 record, while the Vikings advance to play top-seeded Northern Kentucky on Saturday.

The Penguins trailed for almost 35 minutes, and they made hustle plays to climb out of an early double-digit hole and give themselves a chance to win at the end. With YSU trailing 72-68, Cameron Morse banked in a long 3-pointer with 11 seconds left to get the Penguins to within a point. Cleveland State's Tyree Appleby missed a pair of free throws to give YSU a chance to win it, but Morse missed a contested floater and Naz Bohannon's desperation tip at the buzzer missed as well.

Bohannon led the Penguins with a career-high 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, and he added eight rebounds. Three other YSU players also reached double figures as Morse finished with 13, Michael Akuchie had 12 off the bench and Braun Hartfield added 11. Morse ended his historic career 1,913 points 232 career 3-pointers, which tied Blake Allen for the most in program history.

After a Bohannon jumper put the Penguins up 5-4, Cleveland State scored 11 straight points to go up 15-5. Although YSU caught the Vikings to tie the score three times, Cleveland State didn't surrender the advantage until the second half.

Following Cleveland State's 11-0 run, the Penguins answered the bell with a 13-3 spurt to tie the game at 18 on an Akuchie triple at the 10:02 mark. YSU tied the score again at 20 and 22 before Cleveland State jumped back ahead by double digits at 36-26 with a 14-4 spurt. The Vikings led 38-28 with under a minute left, but YSU was able to trim the deficit in half with a free throw by Noe Anabir and a four-point play by Hartfield with 8.6 seconds left.

The Vikings scored the first four points of the second half to extend their lead to nine, and that's when YSU started to chip away. The Penguins scored the next five points to keep the Vikings from getting back up by double digits, and back-to-back 3-pointers by Jaylen Benton and Hartfield got them within one at 54-53 with 10:46 left.

YSU finally retook the lead at 59-58 just over three minutes later when Bohannon and Akuchie scored on putbacks on consecutive possessions. Cleveland State made two free throws on its next possession to go up 60-59, and the Penguins did not lead again.

The Penguins tied the score at 60 and 65, and the final tie of the night came at 67-67 on Bohannon's layup. That bucket gave the freshman 10 points in a six-minute stretch. Jamarcus Hairston was fouled at the end of the shot clock and made two free throws to put Cleveland State ahead, and Anthony Wright's putback dunk put the Vikings up 71-67 with 1:34 left.

Garrett Covington hit the first of two free throw attempts to get the Penguins within a possession, and Bohannon got a deflection on the miss to give YSU another chance. The Penguins turned it over, and Cleveland State's Kenny Carpenter split two free throws to make the score 72-68. Morse's long triple followed to set up the final sequence.

Cleveland State shot 42.1 percent from the field for a slight advantage on YSU's 41.9 percent. The Penguins made one more two and one more 3-pointer than the Vikings, but Cleveland State held a six-point advantage at the free-throw line.

Carpenter led the Vikings with 22 points, and he made four of the team's six 3-pointers.