IUP BASKETBALL: Hawks women endure tale of two halves vs. Bluefield State
Tom McConnell was coaching his first game at IUP, and it went exactly the way he hoped it would — for 20 minutes.
IUP looked great in the first half and far-from-great in the second in McConnell’s debut Sunday as the women’s basketball coach.
Regardless, IUP did enough in the first half and the first five minutes of the second to take a 30-point lead en route to a 56-45 victory over Bluefield State (W.Va.) at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex in the annual Susan G. Komen Shoot for the Cure Classic.
“I loved the first 20 minutes, the way we defended and played,” McConnell said. “But it was frustrating with the second 20 minutes. We just did not play good basketball. We’re capable of playing at that level for 40 minutes, and we just didn’t do it. We need to do a better job for 40 minutes.”
IUP bolted to a 28-4 lead on the strength of a 20-0 run and took a 34-15 advantage into halftime. The Crimson Hawks held Bluefield to 15.4 percent shooting (4-for-26) and forced 12 turnovers. Offensively, they shot at better than a 50-percent clip for most of the first half and committed only four turnovers.
In the second half, IUP rattled off the first 11 points to stretch the lead to 30. Then its shooting dipped to 36 percent, and the Hawks committed 16 turnovers and were called for 14 fouls. They kept the lead close to 20 points throughout most of the half before Bluefield finished the game by scoring the last 15 points.
“We definitely could have played better,” Lindsay Stamp, a junior guard who led IUP with 21 points, said. “The first half we showed our true colors and played our game, and that was evident by the score. Then our intensity fell off a little bit in the second half, and that’s something we need to work on. That will be our main focus this week.”
McConnell is serving as a head coach in the college ranks for the first time since he was at St. Francis as the men’s coach in 1992-99. More than 600 fans turned out on a Sunday afternoon, and more than 20 were McConnell’s family and friends.
“I was excited about it,” he said of his IUP debut. “I was looking forward to it. And the first 20 minutes went exactly the way I hoped and thought they would, and the second 20 got frustrating. But we talked about all the things we did in the second half, and they’re fixable things that we can get better at.
“But it was exciting. It was a great crowd, and I loved being in the arena and having family and friends here. It was great.”
Leslie Stapleton enjoyed the experience, too. The Indiana native missed all but the first two games of last season after suffering a broken ankle that required surgery. She was back in the starting lineup Sunday, playing for the first time in close to a year. She finished with 10 points and played 30 minutes.
“It was the most amazing feeling ever,” Stapleton said. “I just feel appreciative of being able to play after everything last year and having to watch 30 games. It’s one of the best feelings ever.”
The 5-foot-10 junior guard opened IUP’s scoring less than a minute into the game, swishing a 3-point field goal from the left wing.
“Yeah, that was nice,” she said.
After IUP opened up the big lead, the only suspense in the second half was whether Amy Fairman would extend her streak of games with at least one steal to 42. The 5-9 junior played only four minutes in the first half after picking up her second foul, and it wasn’t until 3:45 was left in the game that she deflected a Bluefield pass that ended up in a teammate’s hands.
“I don’t really focus on stats during the game,” Fairman said. “I just go out there and play. As long as I’m getting my teammates the ball and just helping and doing my role, that’s all that matters.”
Fairman, a Marion Center product, finished with 11 points, three assists and the lone steal.
“We’ve got to keep her on the floor,” McConnell said. “She’s too valuable a player for us. … We’re a different team and better team when she’s on the floor and making things happen. We need her out there.”
Marita Mathe, a junior point guard from Indiana, finished with eight rebounds, eight assists and four steals. Ashley Stoner, a junior forward, also had eight rebounds.
IUP plays Saturday at home against Fairmont State (W.Va.). Fairmont beat Bluefield, 86-59, on Saturday.
“We did well,” Stapleton said, “but there are a lot of things we need to get better at. It wasn’t our best showing, but we’ll keep working and get it together.”