IUP BASKETBALL: Hawks use free throws to knock out Rams in first round of NCAA tournament
EAST STROUDSBURG — West Chester coach Damien Blair probably still hears whistles in his head today.
The last time his team played IUP, most of what he remembered was the officials putting up two arms to signal a successful 3-point field goal as IUP made its first eight in ushering the Golden Rams out of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference playoffs last season.
This time, it’s the whistles that will stick with him.
IUP shot 46 free throws, exactly double West Chester’s total, and made 32, which was enough to hold the Golden Rams at bay in a 75-68 victory in the opening game of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region basketball tournament at Koehler Field House on Saturday afternoon.
IUP (24-4) plays West Liberty (W.Va.) in the semifinals at 5 p.m. today. West Liberty (27-3) advanced by beating Glenville (W.Va.) State, 88-72.
Mathis Keita alone matched West Chester’s free throw shooting total, sinking 16 of 23 while pouring a game-high 29 points. The 16 free throws set a school record in NCAA play, and the 23 attempts fell two short of the single-game record in all games.
“The difference in the game was the amount of foul shots they took,” Blair said. “They shot 46 — and Keita shot 23 of those — and we shot 23. Whenever you play a team you’re evenly matched with, you can’t foul that much, or the officials can’t blow the whistle that much.”
IUP made 15 of 18 free throws in the first half while building an 11-point lead and converted 17 of 28 in the second half while holding off the Golden Rams. IUP took the lead for good at 20-18 at the 8:10 mark of the first half.
“We were trying to be aggressive and run our sets, and it just happened that we got fouled and kept going to the line,” Keita said. “They didn’t let us get any easy buckets, so we had to go find them.”
Keita, made it to the line by continually penetrating the defense. He also made a big shot late in the game, drilling a 3-point field goal with 2:11 remaining that stretched a one-point lead to four.
“Obviously it was a big shot,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said, “and Mathis has hit a lot of big shots over the last two years. That was a momentum shot and it turned the tide a little bit and gave us the energy to get some stops after that.”
IUP allowed only two free throws after that and made 5 of 8 to seal the win. West Chester missed its last seven field goal attempts.
“I’m proud of our guys for their effort,” Lombardi said. “We just need to find a way, and at times it wasn’t pretty, but we found a way. We did a good job attacking the bucket and getting to the free throw line, and we’re a good free throw shooting team.”
Another big factor was rebounding. Both teams entered the game with a rebounding margin of plus-5. IUP finished with a 37-30 advantage and nearly matched the Golden Rams on the offensive boards, 12-11.
“In the PSAC tournament they had 20 offensive rebounds against East Stroudsburg, and tonight they had only 12 and we were able to outrebound them by seven,” Lombardi said. “We’re undefeated this year when we’re able to tie or outrebound a team, and that’s been a hallmark of what we kind of do over the years, so that was important for our success moving forward.”
“You can circle a couple things on the stat sheet,” Blair said. “No. 1 would be foul shooting, and rebounding would be next and then turnovers. We had 16 turnovers against a team that doesn’t press, and you have to do a better job taking care of the ball because every possession counts.”
The other key factor was the effort turned in by IUP’s Marcel Souberbielle. The 6-7 senior forward was questionable entering the tournament after suffering a hip flexor injury in last week’s loss to Mercyhurst in the PSAC playoffs. He hadn’t practiced since.
Souberbielle not only played, he turned in 30 solid minutes and finished with 11 points. Manny Yarde started in his place, but Souberbielle entered 3:40 into the game and rarely departed for the bench.
“Marcel did a good job and showed a lot of heart,” Lombardi said. “He hadn’t done anything since Mercyhurst, and this was definitely the first time he was able to run around a little bit, and yet he had himself prepared and was a good teammate and a good leader leading up to this.”
“I thought I did a good job,” Souberbielle said, “especially after not practicing for so long. I just let the game come to me. I knew I wasn’t going to be 100 percent — I hadn’t even run until yesterday — but I felt good and Coach trusted me, and I’m just glad I could help the team win.”
IUP will need Souberbielle — and everyone — to be ready today against West Liberty after using only seven players against West Chester.
“You can’t build your hopes or game plan around the possibility that he’ll be able to play,” Lombardi said. “And (today), who knows how he’ll respond? So we’re going to plan again like Marcel is not going to be a part of it.”
Devon Cottrell, a redshirt sophomore center, missed several minutes of Saturday’s game when he took an elbow to the face and needed one stitch to close a bloody cut between his nose and right eye.
“I like it when guys out there are bleeding a little bit,” Lombardi cracked. “It makes me feel like they’re competing hard.”
West Liberty has won the past three regional titles, all on its home court, and 10 straight games spanning the four regional tournaments. The Hilltoppers knocked off IUP in two of those championship games, including 86-63 last season. IUP beat West Liberty for the regional title in 2009-10 en route to a berth in the national championship game.
The Hilltoppers average 102.4 points per game and shoot 50 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range. Seven players average double figures in scoring, with five attempting more than 100 3-pointers this season.
“We’ll have to go with more than seven and try to control the tempo,” Lombardi said. “It’s going to be a tough challenge for us if we’re a little shorthanded, but we’ll have to find a way.”