IUP BASKETBALL: Crimson Hawks get angry, gain revenge against California
CALIFORNIA — The IUP Crimson Hawks got mad, and then they got even.
Now they intend to get a little angrier.
IUP avenged one of its two losses this season, blowing out California by 38 points, 85-47, in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division basketball game Wednesday night at the Convocation Center.
“Play angry,” junior point guard Devante Chance said when asked about his team’s mindset going up against an opponent that handed IUP a 59-56 loss on Jan. 18. “The last time we played them we didn’t put as much effort as we could into the game, and that’s why we lost. Coming into this game it was all about effort, talking, moving the ball, playing in transition and making the open pass.”
IUP gets a chance to avenge its only other loss Saturday night when Gannon visits the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
So what is the prescription for Saturday night’s matchup against Gannon?
“Play angrier,” Chance said. “That will be the emphasis — just try to play angry again and try to get the win at home. I’m looking forward to it.”
Saturday’s game between IUP (20-2, 10-2 PSAC West) and Gannon (15-8, 10-3) carries more significance than a typical grudge match. The winner will end the night in first place in the PSAC West and have the inside track to the division title with only 10 days left in the regular season. Gannon beat IUP, 67-61 in overtime, in Erie on Jan. 15.
“Whether they beat us up there or not, the game still has great value to it at this point,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “They have a good program, and their teams always compete very hard. We try to stress being that play-hard team and being the team that plays harder longer. Some teams play really hard for two-minute stretches, but you have to play hard for three-, four-, five-minute stretches. Gannon has that ability to do that. They have great competitors and they stress defense, and they’re one of the better defensive teams in the country. I’m sure we won’t get as many layups, and we’re going to have to earn our buckets.
“They’re also very disciplined on offense, and they have a lot of different guys that can score … so they pose a lot of problems on both ends. Hopefully we can compete well against them that night.”
Gannon fell to 6-7 in early January after a three-game losing streak against the PSAC East’s top three teams, Bloomsburg, East Stroudsburg and West Chester. The Golden Knights have since won nine of 10, the lone loss coming at California, 62-59, on Jan. 29. They beat Edinboro 71-54 last night.
IUP, ranked seventh in NCAA Division II, started the season 14-0 before losing two straight and has reeled off six straight wins. After ending the short skid at Edinboro on Jan. 22, the Crimson Hawks returned home to beat Slippery Rock in a 66-64 thriller on Jan. 26 and have held first place since. Their last four wins — against Pitt Johnstown, Clarion, Seton Hill and California — have been blowouts.
“We have a lot in front of us the next couple weeks starting Saturday,” Lombardi said. “All wins are important, but when you play a team that is also trying to win the conference, that heightens the importance of the game.”
IUP dominated California (9-14, 4-9) from start to finish. The Hawks grabbed an early 10-point lead, extended it 20 at 42-22 by halftime and stretched it to 32 in the first five minutes of the second half. They went on to lead by as many as 42.
The Hawks put up some impressive numbers. They shot a season-high 61.5 percent (32-for-52) from the field and had a season-high 25 assists. Outrebounded by seven the first time the teams met, IUP dominated this time by 23, 44-21.
Five players scored in double figures. Jeremy Jeffers, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, led the way with 16 points, matching the career high he set last season when he played at Division I Drake. He was followed by Brandon Norfleet (14), Mathis Keita (13), Chance (12) and Marcel Souberbielle (10). Chance dished out a career-high nine assists, Keita handed out six, and Norfleet had four. Norfleet and Keita combined for 15 rebounds.
“We’re really coming together,” Jeffers said. “Obviously we have a lot of work to still do, but we’re peaking at the right time and starting to feel where each other’s going to be on the court. Everybody is really understanding their role, which is making us a lot better team.”
IUP continued to play at a faster pace on offense, again unleashing the newfound transition game it has put on display in the last two weeks. With layups outnumbering jump shots, the Hawks have shot better than 55 percent in each of their last four outings.
“These guys have been real mature for last couple weeks,” Lombardi said. “I told them I had faith they could evolved into this type of team. … They’ve put together a streak of performances and are now playing what I like to call IUP basketball. The last time Cal beat us in rebounding by seven. You can say what you want — the ball maybe didn’t bounce our way; we didn’t make shots; you can say anything you want to say — but at the end of the day the team that outrebounds you probably put forth a better effort than you, and Cal did that the first game. The guys responded to that challenge and contributed to another great effort tonight.”