Slippery Rock will get another shot at IUP.
After losing the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division title to IUP on the last day of the regular season, Slippery Rock will have a chance tonight to snatch two bigger prizes from the Crimson Hawks — the conference championship and the automatic NCAA tournament bid that comes with it.
Slippery Rock got off to a fast start, never trailed and held off East Stroudsburg’s late charge to knock off the defending conference champion, 68-59, in the PSAC semifinals Friday and set up an all-PSAC West championship game tonight.
IUP beat West Chester, 92-76, in the second game later Friday to return to the conference title game for the third time in four seasons and set up a rematch of the 2011 title game.
“Obviously, we’ll be the underdog, whoever we play,” Slippery Rock coach Kevin Reynolds said before the outcome of the IUP-West Chester game had been decided. “At Slippery Rock, we’ve always said we’re the underdog going into almost every game on our schedule. The guys have that chip on their shoulder, and that’s what gives us our edge, at least in the five years we’ve been here. … That’s kind of been our approach all along: We’re the underdog, and we have David vs. Goliath, so to speak, against most of these teams in the West.”
Slippery Rock, which needed to beat Gannon in its regular-season finale on Feb. 27 to claim the PSAC West title, lost that night and ended up third in the division to lose a first-round bye and put its NCAA tournament chances in serious jeopardy.
The Rock did not appear in the latest Atlantic Region rankings, which determine the NCAA tournament field, and their only realistic chance of reaching it is by winning the PSAC tournament.
And that’s what the Rock is on the brink of doing. Slippery Rock won three games in the conference tournament to reach tonight’s championship game.
“We’ve been in Game 7 mode since probably three weeks ago, when we knew we had to try to win the conference,” Reynolds said.
Devin Taylor finished with 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting and added 14 rebounds to lead Slippery Rock. Former IUP player Gerald Brooks added 15 points for the Rock, seeking its first PSAC title since 1963.
Slippery Rock jumped out to a 12-2 lead less than five minutes into the game, and held a 35-20 halftime lead after holding East Stroudsburg without a field goal over the final 9:37 of the half.
The Rock extended its lead to as many as 19 points before the Warriors went on a 13-4 run to pull within 58-52 with 2:17 to play. But on the next possession, Brooks came up with a 3-point play to push the lead to 61-52 and the Rock went 7-for-8 from the free throw line over the final 1:27 to seal the win.