Crimson Hawks hit a rut, lose second straight
The IUP Crimson Hawks are stuck in a rut.
They can’t find any offensive consistency, and as a result, they have dropped two straight games following Saturday night’s 59-56 setback against California at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
The inconsistency goes well beyond the two-game losing streak. IUP hasn’t played well offensively since coming back from the holiday break. Prior to that, the Hawks were winning games by comfortable margins while hitting teams with prolonged bursts of offense and dominating the rebounding.
Lately, IUP has floundered and fallen to 14-2 overall and 4-2 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division. The Hawks have been knocked from their lofty perch of the unbeaten fifth-ranked team in the nation and fallen to third place in the PSAC West.
In six games since the break, the Hawks are 4-2, but they are shooting only 42 percent from the field, including 29 percent from 3-point range, and they are scoring an average of only 60.7 points per game. They have been outrebounded in four of the last six games, and turnovers have also risen from an average of 11 per game to 15.
“We just have a ways to go,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “We’re not a real good team. We were 14-0, and we were fortunate to play a real soft schedule early on, and we were really not putting the hammer down, and it caught up with us a little bit. We’re learning, and it’s a long season, and hopefully we learn what it is to be competitive and what it is to grow up as young men and take responsibility.”
On Saturday, IUP shot 37 percent (20-for-53), matching the season low it sank to in Wednesday’s 67-61 overtime loss at Gannon. The Hawks shot only 27 percent (6-for-22) in the first half and trailed 25-18 at halftime. By the time they began to mount a comeback in the final 3½ minutes, they were already trailing by 13 points.
“We’ve been struggling lately,” senior guard Mathis Keita said. “I don’t know exactly why, but I guess we’ve got to keep working and get better at it. I don’t know if the teams we’re playing are better, but we’re not as good as we were. I don’t know why, but we’ll see it on film and fix it.”
IUP lost to a California team that has won seven of its last 10 games but entered the game with a 7-9 record. IUP hadn’t lost a home game to a team with a losing record since 2006-07, when the Hawks finished 6-21 in Lombardi’s first season.
“Maybe Cal is better than their record, and they probably are,” Lombardi said, “and we’re not as good as our record.”
IUP also lost at home for only the sixth time in the last 90 games dating to the 2007-08 season.
“It’s one of the tougher losses we’ve had to digest since I’ve been here,” Lombardi said. “But we’re not so privileged that we can’t deal in disappointment. We’re not above losing, and we’re not above disappointment — that’s part of sports — but we’re anxious to move forward and see how our team responds because I’m always preaching that in life it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you respond. There’s no room for anybody to feel sorry for themselves. It’s a competitive game, and if you win, you move on, and if you lose, you feel disappointed and move on. But moving on is always part of the equation.”
IUP trailed California most of the game. The Hawks led 9-6 and then fell behind and tried to play catch-up the rest of the way. In the first half, they missed a half-dozen shots near the basket.
“Our inability to score the basketball a lot of different ways, whether it was layups, post moves or jump shots, really took our energy and worked against us as the game went on,” Lombardi said. “I think the rims shrunk on us, and the more we missed easy shots, the harder it was to make the next one. That hurts your ability on defense, too, because it takes energy off your defense.”
In the second half, IUP pulled with in one point once and two points once before California mounted a 12-3 run to stretch the lead to 13 points, 54-41, with four minutes to play.
IUP made its charge in the last 3½ minutes, using a 13-3 run to get within three points at 57-54 with 45 seconds to play. Marcel Souberbielle missed a chance to tie the game on a 3-point attempt with 42 seconds to play, and then missed another chance on a 3 as time expired.
“They were good looks,” Souberbielle said, “but as a basketball player, the moment it leaves your hand you have a certain feeling, and I didn’t have the feeling that they were going in. I’m struggling shooting the ball right now, and I don’t have the answers. I just know I need to pick it up now because we can’t afford to lose any more games.”
Keita led IUP with 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting, and Souberbielle and Devante Chance scored 11 apiece on a combined 8-for-22 shooting.
Jake Jacubec led California with 15 points, Arman Marks scored 13, and Chris Williams had 11. Alonzo Murphy raked in 12 rebounds.
“First, give credit to California,” Lombardi said. “They came in with a lot of confidence and competitive spirit, and over the course of the game they had the edge on us in that area. They were probably better prepared than we were from a coaching standpoint, so they had the edge there. The officials gave us a good game, so there’s no reason other than we didn’t get it done. … We lost to Gannon, and I challenged them and checked them a little bit, and maybe I should have been a little softer and kinder. I’m not sure.”
IUP plays at Edinboro (7-9, 0-6) on Wednesday and plays host to first-place Slippery Rock (14-4, 5-1) on Saturday.
“We’re still family and still very close to each other,” Keita said. “We’re working hard, and we’ll keep working harder to figure it out. Coach will figure it out and make sure we score more points and play better defense. Two in a row is not good, and we have to bounce back.”