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MILWAUKEE — Youngstown State dug an early hole with a pair of scoring droughts and then failed to clamp down defensively, costing the Penguins a share of first place in the Horizon League.

The Penguins, who entered with a five-game winning streak, trailed by 10 at the break and were unable to slow Milwaukee in the second half, absorbing an 88-75 loss Friday night in a matchup between conference leaders.

“We couldn’t stop them,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “It had nothing to do with anything else, but we gave up 88. You’re not beating anybody in the country. I don’t care if you’re at a park, you’re at home, you’re away, you can’t give up 88 points.”

As a result, the Penguins (15-6, 7-3 Horizon) dropped a game behind Milwaukee (14-6, 8-2) and Northern Kentucky, which maintained a share of the lead with a 74-54 victory over Purdue Fort Wayne on Friday.

Milwaukee extended its lead to 67-52, but the Penguins pulled within 67-57 on two free throws by Malek Green and a 3-pointer by Adrian Nelson with 9:07 left.

The Panthers quickly pushed the lead back to 76-61, and YSU was unable to close within single digits the rest of the way.

“This was a big moment for our basketball program. We didn’t step up, didn’t seize the moment,” Calhoun said. “It’s been a long time since YSU men’s basketball’s been battling for first place this late in the conference.”

“Disappointing that we didn’t rise to the occasion,” he said. “From a coaching standpoint, I thought we were dominated. From a playing standpoint, I thought we were dominated. We’ll see them again later on, but you can’t get these games back.”

Brandon Rush had 19 points, Green added 17 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Dwayne Cohill and Nelson also scored in double figures with 16 and 13 points, respectively.

BJ Freeman led Milwaukee with 30 points and 11 assists, and Kentrell Pullian added 17 points.

The Penguins, who came in shooting 40.2 percent from 3-point range, were just 4 of 21 from beyond the arc. Freeman was 5 of 11 from deep and the Panthers 12 of 25.

“We missed a lot of easy baskets around the rim, missed a ton of 3s,” Calhoun said. “We’re one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country. We didn’t get good shots, and that’s a credit to them.”

The Penguins trailed 43-33 at the break, failing to score over the final 3:32 of the first half — their second scoreless stretch of more than 3 1/2 minutes.

Milwaukee hit 10 of 19 from beyond the arc in the opening stanza, including 7 of 11 by BJ Freeman, who had 19 first-half points.

Rush led the Penguins with 13 points in the opening half, hitting 5 of 6 shots, including 3 of 4 from deep, but did not score over the final 7:39.

The Panthers put together a 13-2 run midway through the first half, capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by Pullian and Elijah Jamison for a 27-21 advantage

The Penguins missed six consecutive shots during that first scoreless span.

YSU returns home Friday to face Oakland. The Penguins host Milwaukee in the rematch Feb. 16.

“They made some adjustments at halftime, we kind of saw where they were going with it, but made our own adjustments,” said Milwaukee coach Bart Lundy, whose team was picked to finish ninth in the preseason Horizon League poll. “That will be the storyline with every team down the stretch, but I’d rather be sitting at 8-2 making these adjustments, instead of 2-8.”

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