IUP BASKETBALL: WEST LIBERTY 86, IUP 85 -- West Liberty prevails in 3 OTs to end Crimson Hawks' season again
EAST STROUDSBURG — IUP needed one more play.
One more play — one more made shot or one more stop on defense or one more rebound — or maybe one more overtime period. That was all the Crimson Hawks needed to keep their season going in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region basketball tournament Sunday at Koehler Field House.
That play never came. Neither did a fourth overtime.
Call it a heartbreaker or an instant classic. On the bottom line of the stat sheet, where the final score is listed, it reads West Liberty 86, IUP 85 after time ran out in the third overtime. West Liberty (28-3) advanced to play East Stroudsburg on Tuesday for a fourth straight berth in the Elite Eight, and IUP’s season ended at 24-5 after losing to West Liberty for a third straight time in regional play.
West Liberty has ended IUP’s season three of the past four seasons.
“Congratulations to West Liberty. They outlasted us,” Joe Lombardi, IUP’s somber coach, said.
IUP, using a seven-man rotation that Lombardi called his “Iron 7” against West Liberty’s nine-man rotation that likes to play an up-tempo, high-scoring game, didn’t run out of gas. The Crimson Hawks just ran out of time.
The game ended when IUP redshirt freshman Manny Yarde missed the second of two free throws that would have tied the game with .08 seconds left and then missed a shot after getting the offensive rebound as time expired.
“We were playing seven guys,” Lombardi said, “and one of them, Marcel Souberbielle, hadn’t practiced for two weeks before we got here. How he ever played 43 minutes and did what he did, I’ll never know, other than there are guys here with big hearts. … The guys could have let go of the rope at any time. A number of times their backs were against the wall, and they could have let go, but they never did.”
Souberbielle, who suffered a hip flexor injury 12 days ago, was questionable entering Saturday’s first-round victory over West Chester. He played 30 minutes in that game and outdid himself Sunday by playing 43. He scored a game-high 27 points and tied for the game high with 10 rebounds.
Souberbielle and Mathis Keita, IUP’s lone seniors, didn’t want their careers to end. Keita played 52 of a possible 55 minutes and scored 19 points, and point guard Devante Chance played 54. Brandon Norfleet scored 18 before fouling out midway through the second overtime.
For much of the night, it looked like the iron will of the “Iron 7” would win out.
For most of the game, everything seemed to be going in IUP’s favor. The game was played at the Crimson Hawks’ deliberate pace, which was crucial against a team that entered the game leading the country in scoring at 102.4 points per game. IUP held West Liberty to season lows of five 3-point field goals and 17.2 percent (5-for-29) shooting from 3-point range and 40 percent shooting overall — the Hilltoppers average 13 made 3-pointers per game and 50 percent shooting, including 41 percent from 3-point range.
The game was tied at 65 at the end of regulation, 37 points below West Liberty’s season average.
“I was happy with the way we played and controlled the tempo,” Lombardi said, “because that’s a team that likes to play really fast and play a lot of guys and get up a lot of shots. We dictated the game for most of the night.”
There were several occasions when IUP could have, as Lombardi put it, let go of the rope, as in losing a game of tug-of-war. The first came late in the first half when West Liberty used an 8-0 run in the last three minutes to take its first lead and head into halftime up by three, 32-29.
The second came early in the second half when West Liberty took its largest lead, nine points at 43-34, after a couple calls went against IUP. The Hawks responded with an 11-0 burst for a 45-43 edge.
“That’s a team that’s really good on spurts,” Lombardi said of the Hilltoppers. “They spurt and get their confidence going … and that opens the floodgates. But we got stops and executed on offense, and the guys came out with a lot of fire and were not going to let that be their defining moment right then. I’m just really proud of how they responded.”
“The bottom line is they have good players that have played a lot of basketball, and they’re well-coached and work at controlling the shot clock,” West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said after his team won an 11th straight game spanning four regional tournaments. “When we were up nine, instead of them saying we’ve got to stop this tempo thing, they busted our pressure and got a couple easy buckets. They were not about to fold.”
Another critical period came in the third overtime after West Liberty surged to a seven-point lead at 86-79 with 2:37 remaining. IUP rallied and almost kept the game going.
“You still feel like you’re going to win this game,” Souberbielle said. “You never lose hope, even though things aren’t going your way, and you just keep grinding it.”
IUP missed some chances to put the Hilltoppers in situations where they might be tempted to let go of the rope. The 11-0 run started a 22-8 burst that put the Crimson Hawks on top by five, 56-51, with 5:33 to play.
West Liberty kept the game close, and it was 61-57 in IUP’s favor with 2:44 left when Souberbielle missed the front end of a one-and-one and West Liberty answered with a 3-pointer. IUP’s Jeremy Jeffers then missed the second of two free throws, and West Liberty answered with another 3 for a 63-62 lead. Souberbielle then buried a 3-pointer that forged a 65-65 tie with 3.4 seconds left in regulation.
In the first overtime, IUP opened with Keita’s 3, but West Liberty scored six straight points for a 71-68 lead. Souberbielle again buried a 3-pointer, this one from the left corner with two defenders flying at him, that tied the game at 71 with 24.9 seconds remaining.
IUP’s defense held on West Liberty’s last possession, although the officials had to go to video review to see if Keene Cockburn’s 12-foot jumper off an offensive rebound beat the buzzer. They ruled it did not, and the game went on.
In the second overtime, IUP took a 75-71 lead at the 3:15 mark, and West Liberty tied it with 1:05 left. Neither team scored from there, but Lombardi unsuccessfully contended that West Liberty committed basket interference — one of the Hilltoppers slapped the backboard that left it shaking — when Souberbielle’s layup rolled off the rim with 35 seconds left. IUP again held on West Liberty’s last possession.
In the third overtime, West Liberty never trailed. It was 86-79 when Souberbielle converted a 3-point play with 2:17 left and followed with two free throws that made it 86-84 with 1:33 to go. After West Liberty missed two 3-point attempts, Yarde rebounded Souberbielle’s missed layup and drew a foul with only .08 seconds left.
Yarde made the first free throw before West Liberty called a timeout. He then missed the second, collected the rebound and missed an 8-foot jumper as time expired.
As West Liberty rejoiced, Keita hugged Yarde.
“Manny’s my roommate, and he’s like a brother to me,” Keita said. “He’s only a freshman, and I think he’ll be great. When I was a freshman I was sitting on the bench watching, but he did great, and I’m just really proud of him.”
The loss was especially gut-wrenching for IUP’s two seniors.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world,” Souberbielle said. “I don’t know what else to say. We left it all out there. Like Coach said, they made one more play than us, and that’s why they’re in the championship game.”
“I feel like we left it all out there,” Keita said. “I think we can be proud of that.”
Lombardi also had a glassy-eyed moment in the postgame interview.
“As a coach you like to have success and like to win games and like to be proud of the number of games you win,” he said, “but sometimes you get more gratification in seeing the type people you have that grow and develop. That said, we’re disappointed for our team but really grateful for the effort and proud of everything we stand for.”
Sometime today Lombardi expected to watch the tape of the game.
“I guess you can put it in the category of instant classic,” he said. “I don’t know that I’m going to pull it up and watch it a whole lot of times. Maybe I will just to see the tremendous competitive spirit these guys had, and I just won’t look at the scoreboard at the end.”
West Liberty entered the game with seven players averaging double figures in scoring. Shawn Dyer and Cedric Harris combined for 45, but no other Hilltoppers reached double figures. Keene Cockburn, a 6-foot-5 senior, finished with nine blocked shots — one shy of the school-record 10 he blocked earlier this month — to go with eight points and 10 rebounds.
“This team finds a way,” Crutchfield said. “It’s a mark of a good team when you don’t shoot the ball well and can win — and if you can win against a really good team, which IUP is.”
IUP shot 39.5 percent from the field. The Crimson Hawks made 10 of their first 13 shots and shot 20-for-63 (31.7 percent) after that. They led the rebounding by five, 51-46, and had 13 turnovers to West Liberty’s 12. West Liberty made 17 of 18 free throws, and IUP made 19 of 24.
“The story of this game is how two teams competed, and especially my team from the standpoint of only having a seven-man rotation,” Lombardi said. “What West Liberty does to most teams is they don’t let them control the tempo and they wear them down and eventually have a little spurt, and then that team lets go of the rope and they take over. For these guys to grind it and play that hard for that long, I feel like they deserve better, but only one team can win.”