IUP 79, WEST VIRGINIA WESLEYAN 62 -- Keita scores 30 in Hawks' season-opening romp
BUCKHANNON, W.Va. — In the days leading up to the season opener, IUP coach Joe Lombardi was concerned that some of his players might lack confidence in their shooting stroke.
His players alleviated all those worries Wednesday night.
Mathis Keita scored a career-high 30 points to lead four IUP players in double figures, and the Crimson Hawks shot 52 percent from the field in dispatching West Virginia Wesleyan in its home opener, 79-62, in a non-conference basketball game at the Rockefeller Center. IUP returns to the court Saturday night for its home opener against Notre Dame (Ohio).
“I’m very pleased with the guys’ effort and performance,” Lombardi said. “This team doesn’t have an identity after losing so many guys from last year. They don’t have their own confidence in their own team. I thought maybe I overscheduled and put them in a bad position with the exhibition games and then to have to come on the road and try to gain confidence against a team that split this weekend against Bowie State and Virginia State. They’re a good team, and for us to come in and follow the game plan like we did, I’m real proud of them.”
IUP, with seven new players on the roster, entered the regular season coming off exhibition losses to La Salle (87-57) and Michigan State (83-45).
The Crimson Hawks shot no better than 36 percent in those games, and Keita, in particular, was off, making only 5 of 29 field goal attempts.
Those performances, though, were against top-caliber Division I opponents. West Virginia Wesleyan, on the other hand, had no answer for Keita, who made 12 of 17 shots, including two of his three 3-point attempts, or his teammates.
“I did not shoot well, definitely,” Keita said of the exhibition games, “but we played good teams too so there were tougher shots as well. I went in the gym to get my confidence back — I think I had lost it a little bit — and now I’m fine.”
Keita, a 6-foot-5 senior guard, transferred from Division I Gonzaga last year and led IUP in scoring (13.5), rebounding (6.2) and assists (3.3) en route to the program’s third Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship in the four years.
“Mathis, I think, realized last year was the most fun he ever had playing basketball,” Lombardi said, “and he wants to have the same experience this year. I think he got a little bit of the joy back in the game over the past week in practice. That freed him up and allowed him to play looser, and the performance took care of itself because he focused on the process.”
Rather than discuss offense, Keita wanted to talk about defense and holding down West Virginia Wesleyan, a team that made 25 of 54 3-point attempts and shot 50 percent or better overall in its first two games. IUP held the Bobcats to 8-for-22 shooting on 3s and 36 percent overall.
“Defensively, our goal was to limit their 3s,” Keita said. “Our goal was eight or less so eight is perfect. Coach told us if they had less than eight or eight they’d have no chance against us. So we did a good job defensively, and offensively we executed really well.”
“We knew who their shooters were,” Lombardi said, “and the guys did a good job with Coach (Matt) Hahn’s scouting report and got out and defended that. This game goes a long way toward establishing our defensive identity.
“On the offensive end, we played with great control and pace and ran when we had it, and when we didn’t we got into our sets and got some easy shots. We missed some easy shots, too, but I liked our execution.”
IUP jumped out to a 14-0 lead, led by as many as 20 points late in the first half and held a 19-point lead, 43-24, at halftime. The Hawks stretched the lead to 24 midway through the second half and later responded with a 7-0 run late in the game after West Virginia Wesleyan had cut the margin to 11 with a 17-4 run.
“We really prepared well for this team,” IUP’s Marcel Souberbielle said after starting his senior year with 14 points and 10 rebounds. “We knew they had shooters and recognized who were the shooters and who were the drivers. We gave them a first punch, which kind of knocked them out, and that left us comfortable throughout the game. We had control in both halves.”
The game marked the debut of four players new to the IUP lineup: Jeremy Jeffers, Manny Yarde, Jesse Bosnik and Kalusha Ndoumbe Ngollo. Jeffers, a junior transfer from Division I Drake, scored 10 points; Bosnik, who played college and pro baseball the last six years, made both of his shots for four points; Ngollo, a transfer from Division II Franklin Pierce (N.H.), finished with four points; and Yarde, a redshirt freshman, did not score but helped fuel the defensive effort.
Devante Chance, a junior in his third season in the program, made his debut as the starting point guard. He finished with 12 points, six rebounds and three assists.
“I had a good time,” Chance said. “We’re working hard. It was good to get out there, and we played well and got the ‘W.’ We still have stuff to work on, but I’m good with the win, and we’re just ready to move to the next one.”
NOTES: Official stats won’t be available until later today due to multiple scoring errors by the West Virginia Wesleyan sports information staff. … IUP is 8-0 in openers under Lombardi, who claimed his 150th win against 65 losses. “I couldn’t care less.” Lombardi said. “I just wanted to get one.”