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IUP BASKETBALL: Crimson Hawks roll to 6-0 record

by TONY COCCAGNA on December 02, 2013 10:40 AM

The IUP Crimson Hawks had to adjust on the fly, and it took them a while to get their bearings.

One they did, they were impossible to stop.

A day after beating a quick and athletic team from Shaw (N.C.), IUP shrugged off a slow start and knocked off a more deliberate, not-so-athletic but fundamentally sound University of the Sciences team, 72-59, in the final game of the IRMC Classic basketball tournament Sunday afternoon at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.

“They’re a lot better than they look,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said of the visitors from Philadelphia. “They’re not overly athletic, but they know how to play the game and they’re well-coached and organized. They tested us. I don’t think we came out flat, but our guys were so geared up for Shaw that there’s always a letdown in the next game. … I’m just happy we survived it and got through it.”

A day after breaking open a close game by making eight straight shots to beat Shaw, IUP (6-0) pulled away from Sciences (4-3) by scoring on seven straight possessions last in the second half. The Crimson Hawks never trailed after the midway point of the first half, but they couldn’t shake the Devils, who responded each time IUP pulled ahead by seven or eight points.

Sciences made it a one-possession game at 48-46 with 6:55 left to play, and that’s when IUP took off on a 14-2 run to break the game open. Mathis Keita got the rally going by driving to the basket for a score, and Devante Chance turned Jeremy Jeffers’ blocked shot into a fast-break layup.

After Marcel Souberbielle sank two free throws, Chance drilled a 17-foot, pull-up jumper. Then Souberbielle’s steal resulted in two more free throws.

Chance set up the next two buckets with steals — the first came off a pass deflected by Souberbielle’s head — and Manny Yarde and Jeffers scored on layups.

By the time the run ended, IUP held a 14-point lead, 62-48, with 3:25 remaining, and the Devils never threatened again.

“We couldn’t make shots for some reason in the first half,” Keita said. “We’re going to have some days like that, so we have to find a way to get the win. We have good shooters so we’re not going to be off the whole game, and at some point they have to fall.”

They did fall in the second half after IUP stopped settling for 3-point attempts and drove the ball to the basket. That strategy resulted in layups and free throws.

IUP made just 2 of 10 attempts from 3-point range and 4 of 5 free throws in first half and led 26-21 at halftime. In the second half, the Hawks tried only four 3s and shot 70 percent from the field (14-for-20) and made 17 of 22 free throws. They finished at 55.8 percent from the field (24-for-43), including 21-for-29 on 2-point attempts.

“We were out of sync and didn’t have the right emotional level in the first half,” Lombardi said. “Sometimes you just try to get in the locker room and just try to get back on track. Sometimes the challenges aren’t the other team, sometimes it’s yourself. You need to get by yourself, and we needed to get by ourself in the first half.”

Four IUP players scored in double figures. Chance made 6 of 8 shots and finished with a team-high 17 points, Souberbielle and Jeffers scored 15 apiece, and Keita chipped in 14.

Jeffers, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Division I Drake (Iowa), made 7 of 10 shots following Saturday’s 14-point performance.

“The comfort level is rising so that’s a good thing,” Jeffers said. “My teammates give me good confidence, so hopefully it’ll keep getting better.”

Sciences’ Garret Kerr scored a game-high 25 points a day after getting 26 in a win over Pitt Johnstown. The 6-4 junior made 8 of 15 shots and all nine of his free throws. He converted three 3-point plays.

“He’ll score on anybody at our level that’s 6-6, 6-7,” Lombardi said. “He just knows angles … and really knows how to set guys up. And he has a wide body. His dad (Tim) was a hockey player who had a good career with the Philadelphia Flyers, so he’s a kid who understands competitiveness and it’s in his DNA, no question about it.”

IUP takes the rest of the week off from game action and plays at Seton Hill in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division game Saturday.

“We’re going to learn from these two games before we worry about Seton Hill,” Lombardi said. “We’ll start worrying about them Thursday and Friday. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we’re going to get some rest and see how IUP can get better as a team and really focus on taking care of the weaknesses we have now fundamentally on both ends of the floor.”

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