YOUNGSTOWN — Closing in on its seventh consecutive victory, the shots just stopped falling for Youngstown State.
The Penguins led by 10 at the 7:01 mark, only to have that lead slip away in a 73-68 Horizon League loss to visiting Robert Morris on Sunday at the Beeghly Center. YSU (16-11, 10-7) held a 64-54 advantage, but connected on just two of its final 11 shots down the stretch, allowing the Colonials (7-19, 5-12) to rally with a 19-4 run to end the game.
“You have to tip your hat to Robert Morris. They made the plays they had to; they took the fight to us,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “We were up 10, lost that lead. We only had one timeout left. We tried everything. We put a lot of guys (in the game), tried to motivate, tried to change up our defenses. That worked, but you have to give Robert Morris a lot of credit.”
Kahliel Spear led the Colonials’ efforts, scoring a game-high 27 points, including a critical six-point spurt that brought RMU back to within one, 64-63.
Having made just three 3-pointers the rest of the season, Spear hit his first two Sunday on back-to-back possessions early in the first half, and then kept his foot on the gas from there. He finished 10-of-11 from the field and 3-for-3 from deep, and added seven rebounds, some of which came at critical junctures.
“Kahliel Spear was a beast. He was by far the best (player) today, and he helped his team win this game,” Calhoun said, adding, “He’s getting better each week. … He can do a little bit of everything. He posts up and can drive the ball. He (only made two prior 3-pointers in Horizon League play), and boom, he comes out and makes threes. But you have to guard him, and we didn’t do a real good job of that today.”
Youngstown State was led by its usual contributors. Dwayne Cohill paced YSU with 18 points, his 13th consecutive game in double figures, while Myles Hunter scored a season-high 14. Michael Akuchie put up a double-double with 11 points and 11 boards, while Tevin Olison scored 12 points.
As a team, YSU shot 45.2 percent from the field (28-of-62) and 7-of-22 from 3-point range. RMU, on the other hand, shot 53.1 percent overall (26-of-49) and an efficient 7-of-11 from deep. The Penguins were 1-of-6 from deep at halftime.
The Colonials also attacked the rim much better after the intermission, as YSU led paint scoring 22-6 at halftime before RMU brought the final tally to just a 2-point difference for Youngstown State, 36-34.
The Penguins had a couple chances late to tie the game. After Kam Farris split a 1-and-1 to put RMU up 69-68, an Olison 3-pointer at the other end rimmed off with 1:07 to go. Then, after Michael Green III, who scored 14 points, sank a pair of free throws to extend that lead to 71-68, a final Akuchie 3-pointer missed.
Robert Morris also picked up 11 points from Matt Mayers and 10 from Farris.
With the loss, YSU’s win streak ends at six games. Another victory would have tied the program record of seven since joining Division I.
“That’s the disappointing part. We had a chance today to tie a good friend of mine, Coach (Dan) Peters and that 1997-1998 team and fell short by one game of the school’s longest record,” Calhoun said. “I thought about him all day. He was a mentor of mine, and I know he’d be proud of this group, how hard they’ve worked and trying to change a program and try to get more fans at games and have winning seasons. I guarantee he’s up there looking down on this basketball team and he’s proud of them.”
Despite the loss, Youngstown State’s goal of earning a top-four seed in the Horizon League Tournament remains in play. The Penguins entered the day tied with Purdue Fort Wayne at fifth overall, and the Mastodons host league-leading Cleveland State on Monday night.
Detroit Mercy fell at Oakland, allowing YSU to maintain its lead on the Titans. Third-place Northern Kentucky, meanwhile, survived a late Wright State surge to top the fourth-place Raiders 75-71. Tournament seeding will be based on conference win percentage.
The Penguins round out their home schedule this week with UIC and IUPUI before taking on WSU and NKU to end the year, giving them a chance to catch the Norse and Raiders.
“We have to bounce back. That’s what life’s about. When you get knocked down, you can’t point the finger at people,” Calhoun said. “You have to do better, and it starts with the coaches and the players. And sometimes you just lose. That’s the bottom line (today). Sometimes you get outplayed, and you don’t make enough shots. I always credit the other team; I’m not going to blame our guys. You have to give (RMU) some credit.”
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