RICHLAND TOWNSHIP — IUP guard Amy Fairman thrives on unselfish offensive play and a relentless defensive will, which are reasons the junior has carved out another integral role in the Crimson Hawks’ backcourt.
In the waning minutes of Wednesday’s game against Pitt Johnstown, the Creekside native verified that she can also morph into a go-to scorer when the situation calls for it.
Fairman scored the Crimson Hawks’ last five points in regulation before making 6 of 6 free throws in overtime to seal an 85-80 win in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division women’s basketball game at the UPJ Sports Center.
Fairman, a 2011 Marion Center High School graduate, scored four points in the first half, but she finished with a career-high 24 points.
“In those pressure situations, for me, or for any other athlete that deals with it, you’ve got to just think positive and know that you can do it,” said Fairman, who collected six rebounds and a game-tying high three steals.
Fairman drilled arguably the most significant shot of the game — perhaps the season — when she swished a 3-point field goal with 48 seconds left in the second half to forge a 75-75 tie. Eighteen seconds later, she swiped a Mountain Cats’ pass and made a fastbreak layup to give the Hawks (13-6 overall, 4-5 PSAC) a 77-75 lead.
But following an immediate timeout in which Pitt Johnstown coach Mike Drahos drew up his play of choice, Jasmine Harper banked in an uncontested layup off an inbound pass to tie the game, 77-77, with 13 seconds to play.
IUP point guard and Indiana native Marita Mathe attempted the last shot of regulation, but missed a difficult, off-balance jump shot in the paint with three seconds left.
“We felt fine there,” IUP guard Talen Watson said. “We know each other and love each other, and we knew there that we’d do whatever we have to do to get the win.”
Early in overtime, Watson intercepted a UPJ pass and shipped an outlet feed to Fairman, who drew a foul in the paint before sinking both of her free throws to give the Hawks a 79-77 lead with 3:55 to go.
Kayla DeCriscio answered on Pitt Johnstown’s ensuing possession and buried a deep 3 to give the Cats an 80-79 lead with 2:53 to go.
Two IUP possessions later, Watson hit a pair of free throws to put the Hawks ahead, 81-80, with 1:44 to play.
Then, following squandered opportunities by both teams, Fairman corralled an inbound pass from Mathe, drew a foul and hit two straight free throws to give IUP an 83-80 lead with seven seconds to go.
DeCriscio clanked a 3 attempt off the rim with three seconds left to cement the Hawks’ win.
“In these types of games it just comes down to who’s going to make that last play,” first-year IUP coach Tom McConnell said. “You go back and forth and back and forth, and you just know it’s going to come down to that last play, and fortunately for us, we made more than one big play when we needed it.”
IUP missed each of its six field goal attempts in overtime, but it made 18 of 29 (62 percent) field goals in the second half. Pitt Johnstown made 1 of 5 field goals in overtime and 14 of 29 (48 percent) in the second half.
“I think it just came down to a lack of execution for us,” Drahos said. “IUP’s a good team and if you want to beat good teams you’ve got to execute down the stretch. We didn’t do that tonight, and that’s the only thing I’m disappointed about.”
IUP trailed in the second half until Zhané Brooks made a layup off a drive with 8:53 to play to tie the game, 62-62.
The lead changed three times in roughly the next five minutes before Kelsey Sleighter drained a 3 with 3:19 to go to give the Cats a 72-70 lead. Then, approximately 30 seconds after a Watson layup that forged a 72-72 tie, forward Rachel Johnson completed a three-point play that put the Cats ahead 75-72.
IUP committed a turnover on its following possession to give Pitt Johnstown the ball with a 1:33 to go.
Drahos then called a timeout and drew up a play with 17 seconds on the shot clock and 1:10 to play.
Fortunately for the Hawks, Fairman made a steal on Drahos’ designed play and then knocked down the game-tying 3 seconds later to make it a 75-75 game.
“When he (Drahos) called the timeout, we were just saying, ‘Let’s get a stop, and then rebound, rebound , rebound,” McConnell said.
“That’s a play we’ve run in practice a million times and it’s a play we’ve used in games a million times,” Drahos said. “But bottom line, we just didn’t execute the play. And to make matters worse, we go down and allow a wide open 3-pointer. But my hat’s off to Fairman. She played an excellent game and she did what she needed to do to get her team a victory.”
Mathe and guard Leslie Stapleton finished with 15 and 14 points, respectively. Mathe had four rebounds and a team-high four assists, and Brooks chipped in 13 points, a game-tying high three steals and a team-best nine rebounds. IUP forward Ashley Stoner, the team’s third leading scorer who averages 10.5 points per game, suffered a head injury in the first half and didn’t return.