GREENSBURG — Mathis Keita is sending his sister back across the ocean with a special memory.
Keita’s sister, Emmy, has been visiting from their hometown of Thionville, France, for the last 10 days. She watched her brother play basketball in IUP’s tournament last weekend, and on Saturday she got to watch him make the game-winning shot in the waning seconds of a 56-54 victory over Seton Hill.
“I had my sister in the crowd so it’s a good day for me,” Keita said after he swished a 17-foot jumper from beyond the foul line to help IUP stay undefeated at 7-0. “When I made it, I thought, That’s good. She’s going to be excited.”
Keita provided an exciting finish on a day when IUP was not at its best offensively. The Crimson Hawks took a nine-point lead on Jeremy Jeffers’ three-point play with 7:02 remaining, but they didn’t score again until Keita came through with 4.1 seconds to play. IUP then had to endure an odd sequence that included four timeouts before Seton Hill’s Nate Perry missed a 3-point attempt from the right wing at the buzzer.
“He struggled a little bit throughout the course of the night,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said of his 6-foot-5 senior guard, “but I have a lot of faith in him and believe in him as a player that he can make big shots in the clutch.”
Keita transferred to IUP from Gonzaga before last season. His family rarely gets to seem him play in person, so when a relative makes it overseas for a visit, it’s a special occasion.
“We wanted to make sure we had the last shot,” Keita said, “so Coach drew up something for me, and I was open and made it. I couldn’t make a shot the whole game, so it had to fall at some point, I guess.”
The final 34 seconds were set up after Seton Hill used a 9-0 run that took nearly seven minutes but tied the game at 54. After Keita scored, Lombardi called a timeout, but the official didn’t recognize it until the clock had run down to 2.8 seconds, and at that point he blew the whistle as Seton Hill approached half court.
A team can’t call timeout without possession of the ball, but play was stopped, no time was returned to the clock, and Seton Hill got to inbound the ball from just across half court. After the Griffins lined up to inbound the ball, IUP used another timeout to set up its defensive strategy, and Seton Hill was then forced to use two timeouts when the Hawks denied an entry pass. Seton Hill’s third attempt almost led to a game-winning 3, but Perry’s shot was too long.
“Our guys did a great job defensively for two possessions, and the third time they ran an inbounds play and got a better look than I would have liked,” Lombardi said. “We were fortunate that it didn’t go in and fortunate that Mathis’ did go in.”
Good fortune was one of the themes for the day after IUP shot a season-low 39.7 percent from the field, converted only 2 of 14 3-point attempts and made it the foul line only six times against a high-scoring Seton Hill team that aimed to make a big impression in its first season in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference by knocking off the defending champion and seventh-ranked team in NCAA Division II.
“You’ve got to have good fortune sometimes,” Lombardi said. “It’s definitely not all coaching. There’s good fortune involved in that, and sometimes you’re unfortunate. Anytime you can play less than your best and win, that’s invaluable, because I get to remind them all week in practice about how great we aren’t.”
The other theme was the heart IUP displayed in grinding out a win on the road in a PSAC West game.
“They had four seniors out there that started, and that’s a veteran-hardened team that had a great desire to beat a ranked team coming in on their home court,” Lombardi said. “They played with great competitiveness, and we had to match that, and I’m kind of proud that our guys matched that. It was not a great game physically, but it was a great game with big hearts. To be champions, you have to have the physical tools and make good decisions, but the other part is that you have to have big hearts, and you don’t know if a team has a big heart until you’re challenged a little bit like tonight, and we did.”
While IUP hit a drought in the closing stretch, Keita pointed out that the Hawks allowed only nine points in that seven-minute stretch.
“We definitely were not at our best, that’s for sure,” he said, “but we kept grinding throughout the whole game. We got stops. In seven minutes they got nine points, so I guess the defense saved us tonight. It was a rough game.”
Marcel Souberbielle led IUP with 14 points, Keita had 10 points, nine rebounds, five assists and no turnovers. Devante Chance also scored 10 points.
Malachi Leonard led Seton Hill with 14 points, Kameron Taylor scored 13, Max Kenyi had 12, and Perry finished with 10.
IUP takes the coming week off for final exams and plays Millersville and Shippensburg the following week.