If Friday night was any indication, it’s going to get crazy tonight at IUP’s Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
IUP plays Slippery Rock at 7 p.m. for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship. A crowd larger than the 2,584 that turned out last night for IUP’s 92-76 semfinal victory over West Chester is expected.
Slippery Rock brought two busses packed with students last night for its 68-59 win over East Stroudsburg, and they are a vocal and engaged bunch. Several hundred IUP students turned out to support the Crimson Hawks. There will be competition on the court to determine a champion, and there will be one in the stands to see which crowd can help will its team to a title.
“It was a great crowd,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said, “and it was really enjoyable for the whole program to get that type of support. For the championship game, Slippery Rock will be bringing down busloads — their administration has really shown great support with that — and I hope that we can ... match the energy their crowd brings.”
“We try to bring our own energy,” senior point guard Anthony Well said, “but it’s always extra when the energy from the crowd is on your side. Slippery Rock came with their fans, and if our fans come out and are loud and do the things that you do at a basketball game, that gives us extra juice to perform.”
IUP (23-5) and Slippery Rock (22-7) are meeting for the third time this season, and this time a conference championship and automatic berth in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region tournament are on the line. IUP won the first game, 55-49, at home on Feb. 2, and Slippery Rock won on its home court, 70-69, on Feb. 23, snapping an eight-game losing streak to the Hawks.
The Hawks have won eight titles overall, including two of the last three, the second over Slippery Rock at their former home, Memorial Field House, two years ago.
“I’ve said before, they’re the most athletic team in the league, the strongest team in the league, and they’re as talented as anybody in the league,” Lombardi said. “It’s a challenge. First we’ve got to rebound with them, but they do a lot of things other than rebound. … But I like the hand we’re going to play with, and we’ll see.”
A lot of time it just comes down to a given night, and we’ll see if we can keep it rolling.”