Scrappy Hawks turn up defense in win, reach midway point of season unbeaten
The IUP Crimson Hawks are in grind-out-mode, and this is the right time of the season to have that mindset.
IUP wrapped up its Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference crossover schedule by grinding out a 63-53 win over Bloomsburg at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex on Wednesday night. The Hawks continue division play Saturday at Mercyhurst, and more often than not, PSAC West games turn into grind-it-out affairs.
“I was just explaining to the guys that we’re a grind-it-out team,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “We’re not a dominant team on either end of the floor, but we have the potential to grow and get better.”
IUP (13-0) led a low-scoring game by as many as seven points in the first half and held a 24-21 halftime edge. In the second half, Bloomsburg (8-5) jumped on top and took an early seven-point lead. The Huskies led by five, 42-37, when the Hawks mounted a 10-0 run for a 47-42 lead with seven minutes to play. IUP outscored Bloomsburg 26-11 in the last nine minutes.
The Hawks struggled most of the game against Bloomsburg’s shifting defenses. The Huskies played man-to-man, 2-3 zone and the occasional 1-3-1, and they even turned on a full-court press. IUP had little trouble tearing through the press but couldn’t find a rhythm in its half-court sets.
While IUP struggled, Bloomsburg had visions of upsetting the unbeaten No. 6 NCAA Division II team in the country on its home court.
“That really galvanizes teams when they have a common goal, a common purpose, and they find the extra energy to play hard,” Lombardi said.
“Sometimes they’ll rise up, and Bloom did that tonight. They did a nice job mixing defenses, and we never got comfortable, and they had us off stride. But sometimes the underdog does some gimmick things, and you have to weather it, and it’s a learning curve on how to adjust to it. The guys picked it up and competed, and hopefully when teams do stick with us like that, we can force them to let go of the rope and pull away a little bit.”
IUP entered the game ranked first in the country in scoring defense at 57.5 points per game and 10th in field goal percentage defense at .377. Defense was the constant most of the night, especially after Bloomsburg made five of its first seven shots in the second half to take a 33-26 lead. From that point, the Hawks held the Huskies to 6-for-24 shooting from the field. Bloomsburg shot 21.7 percent (5-for-23) in the first half and finished at 29.6 (16-for-54).
With IUP trailing 42-37, Devon Cottrell, a sophomore reserve center, fueled the 10-0 surge by coming up with steals in the low post on consecutive possessions. IUP turned both into points while scoring on five straight possessions and 14 of its last 21.
“The defense stood up over the course of the game,” Lombardi said. “The shots they did make were off one-on-one moves. It seemed like at the beginning of the second half when they hit consecutive shots it was when they dribbled and stepped back and made tough shots. That’s what you want, tough 2s. They were making tough shots, and the one time the guy hits the side of the backboard and gets it back and makes a layup. We were not getting rewarded early in the second half with defensive stops. We were playing good defense, and we got rewarded with it later on. As the half went on we were able to stack some stops on top of each other.”
IUP’s bench chipped in on both ends of the floor and outscored Bloomsburg’s reserves 26-4. Cottrell and Manny Yarde combined for 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field and 6-for-8 shooting from the free throw line.
“We all just try to bring passion,” junior forward Jeremy Jeffers said. “We just had it. We had no other choice because we were not losing this game. Everybody guarded. And (Cottrell) and Manny really brought us a spark off the bench.”
Jeffers led IUP with 14 points, Cottrell scored 13, and Marcel Souberbielle finished with 10. The Hawks shot 44.4 percent (20-for-45), made only 1 of 13 3-point attempts and committed 15 turnovers.
Bloomsburg’s Lorenzo Christmas scored a game-high 21 points, and Charles Haigler had 18. The Huskies committed 17 turnovers and went 3-for-15 from 3-point range.
“We’ve been a little slow offensively and couldn’t really get it going at the beginning of the last three or four games,” Souberbielle said. “But the defense has gotten us going … and on nights like this the defense has to win it.”
IUP, which is tied with Mercyhurst for the PSAC West lead at 3-0, resumes its division schedule at the Erie school on Saturday. IUP has lost three straight at Mercyhurst.
“I have that in mind,” Souberbielle said. “They’re a good team, and we’ve struggled against them. They took games from us the last three seasons. I’m excited to go up there and play. They always play a special matchup zone defense that gives us trouble, but we’re more experienced with it now, and the coaches will know better how to approach it, so we’ll be ready.”
The Lakers improved to 7-6 last night by beating Millersville, 69-63, at home. Their six losses have come by a total of 32 points.
“They’re a great defensive team. That’s their staple,” Lombardi said. “They don’t score a ton of points, but they’re capable. They play that matchup zone, and it’s different than any zone we play against all year. There’s a short window to prepare for it, and there are certain things you have to do it against that haven’t always played to our strengths in the past. Winning up there, I don’t think it’s anything about the gym. They have good players, and they play good defense, and teams that have that, that’s what makes someplace a tough place to play. We’ll look forward to the challenge.”