IUP BASKETBALL: Red-hot Hawks put on a show to reach PSAC title game
West Chester’s Jon Breeden doesn’t remember much about the first half of Friday night’s Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference semifinal basketball game against IUP.
“The referees putting up their hands for 3s,” he said. “That’s about it.”
IUP bombarded West Chester from 3-point range, making its first eight of the game and hitting a season-high 15 in a 92-76 romp that propelled the Crimson Hawks into tonight’s championship game against Slippery Rock. The performance came in front of more than 2,500 fans at IUP’s Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex, the site of tonight’s game.
“We played terrific offensively,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “West Chester is a good team, but the way we passed the ball and shot it, they just played a team on fire tonight.”
The refs raised both arms a lot — the signal for a successful 3-point field goal — and West Chester (20-8) couldn’t do anything to stop the red-hot Hawks from setting a PSAC tournament record for 3-pointers. IUP (23-5) cruised to a 17-point halftime lead and stretched it as high as 23 in the second half while shooting 57.8 percent from the field overall (26-for-45) and 65.2 percent from 3-point range (15-for-23).
The Hawks made more 3-pointers than shots from inside the arc (11-for-22). The 13th-ranked team in NCAA Division II was never threatened after a barrage of four 3s on five possessions midway through the first half stretched a seven-point lead to 19.
Of their first 10 field goals in the first 10 minutes, the only two that didn’t come from long range were Josh Wiegand’s alley-oop on an inbounds play and Anthony Wells’ drive that he converted into a 3-point play. They made 11 of 17 from 3-point range in the first half and converted 11 of 15 overall (73.3 percent) in the second half.
“I’m speechless,” West Chester coach Damien Blair said. “I’ve been coaching 15 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. I know Indiana is a very good team and has been ranked throughout the whole season, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team shoot that well from the perimeter. Unfortunately, we had a really good season and had to play a semifinal game against a team on its home floor and they go lights out, 65 percent from the 3-point line. It happens, I just haven’t seen it.”
It was only a couple weeks ago that IUP was stuck in a 3-point shooting slump, making only 13 of 66 during a stretch in which it lost two of three games. The Hawks entered the final week of the season having not made more than nine 3s in a game, but they have hit 11, 10 and 15 in the last three, scoring 19 or more points above their season average of 70.2 each time.
The Hawks entered last night shooting only 33.6 percent from 3-point range, and only one player, Scooter Renkin, was making better than 36 percent. But last night they rarely missed despite West Chester’s strategy of playing multiple defenses.
“It’s always tough when you get down and have to fight your way back,” Blair, whose team lost to IUP by 19 points, 71-52, on Dec. 2, said. “We’ve been there before and gotten ourselves back in games that we were down 15 or 20-plus and tried to find a way to win, and in some we found a way. It’s not unheard of to come back and win, but they just didn’t stop missing. They went 57 percent from the floor, 65 percent from the 3-point line — just unbelievable numbers.”
IUP certainly was clicking offensively. In addition to the hot shooting, the Hawks had 23 assists on 26 field goals, including all 15 field goals in the first half. IUP has assists on 63 percent of its field goals this season.
“We had 15 assists on 15 field goals in the first half, and that’s possibly a record — I’ve never heard of it before,” Lombardi said.
Defensively, West Chester played a full-court press and switched from zone to man-to-man in the half court. The Hawks had answers for everything the Golden Rams threw at them.
“We talked about playing with pace, playing slow,” Lombardi said. “They want to speed you up — they’re a very quick team — and our guys did a good job of not getting sped up and playing slow and finding guys and being shooter-ready. And it’s nice to see them have a night like that because they’ve all worked so hard all year long cutting stone, as we call it. Sometimes during the course of the year you have a slump here and there and wonder if all the work pays off, and this is a sign it does pay off. It’s not the practice you did the last couple days; it’s what you did since September that comes to fruition.”
IUP’s Mathis Keita matched the career high of 25 points he set Tuesday night in a quarterfinal win over Edinboro. Wells equaled the career high of 23 he set earlier this season. They also combined for 15 assists. Renkin, who was recognized as the PSAC basketball scholar-athlete prior to the game, fired in 18 points. Marcel Souberbielle chipped in 10 points, and Danny Ayebo matched his career high with nine rebounds.
“We work hard and cut stone, and this happened to be that game that we broke through and everybody was in rhythm,” Wells, a senior point guard, said. “Fifteen assists on 15 field goals is just unbelievable. We did a good job of looking for guys and being shooter-ready and knocking down shots.”
IUP enters tonight’s championship game on an offensive roll. The Hawks have hit for 93, 89 and 92 points in their last three games.
“We’re not looking at it like we have it all solved or figured out,” Lombardi said. “Every game is a snapshot. We had a good offensive game Tuesday and a good offensive game today. It doesn’t guarantee future success. But we’re capable of it, and it’s good for these guys to see that. But we’re not going to get fooled into thinking that’s going to be the norm. Sometimes when you don’t make shots you have to get offensive rebounds and score that way. They understand that, and I think we have that resiliency. It’s about finding a way and not trying to bottle this and say this is who we are and how we win.”