They aren’t the Fighting Irish.
They aren’t even the Fighting Falcons.
They’re just the plain, old Falcons, and they are coming to Indiana from Euclid, Ohio, not South Bend, Ind.
IUP plays host to little-known Notre Dame College, not the famous University of Notre Dame, in its home opener at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex on Saturday night. The game is part of a basketball doubleheader, with the women’s team opening the action against Fairmont State at 5:30 p.m. followed by the men’s game at 7:30.
Notre Dame College is nearly 200 years old, but the athletic program is in only its second year of NCAA Division II affiliation. It is part of the Mountain East Conference, which was formed when the football-playing schools from the West Virginia Conference broke away to start their own league.
The Falcons were 11-15 last year and come in at 0-2, having lost both games of a tip-off tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“They played Winston-Salem State and Fayetteville State, and the scores were really high,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “They lost both games, but they scored in the 80s both nights, and the shooting percentages were high. Their focus is on the offensive end, and they’re very athletic and have great quickness.”
IUP opened the season Wednesday night with a 79-62 victory at West Virginia Wesleyan. The Crimson Hawks followed the defensive game plan against a hot-shooting team that had made 25 of 54 3-point attempts in two games, holding the Bobcats to 8-for-22.
“We need to do a good job making sure we can get back in defensive transition so there are no easy layups,” Lombardi said of the plan for Notre Dame, “and we have to make them make a few passes and play very good on-the-ball defense and good gap defense where we’re helping people out and shading so the driving lanes aren’t as clear as they would like them to be.”
IUP shot 52 percent, committed only eight turnovers and dominated the rebounding 42-27 in its season opener. The Crimson Hawks jumped out to a 14-0 lead, led by as many as 24 points and responded with a quick 7-0 run after West Virginia Wesleyan had cut the margin to 11 points.
“I like the fact that we had a low amount of turnovers,” Lombardi said. “I like the fact that we carried out the game plan and were able to take the scout on how to play them and carry it over to the game.
“I didn’t like sometimes the little bit of lack of execution and understanding of spacing, and some guys got sped up a little bit. I didn’t like the fact that once we had the lead in the second half we lost our edge a little bit. The first half we got tired and played through fatigue and kept working even though we got tired. The second half we succumbed to fatigue. Fatigue showed up at the door and we kind of let it in and invited it in, and you can’t do that. You have to compete every possession.”
Mathis Keita, a senior guard, led IUP with a career-high 30 points, and Marcel Souberbielle, a senior forward, turned in a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. Devante Chance, a junior, played his first game as starting point guard.
“I can’t say enough about the way Devante is running the team,” Lombardi said. “It always doesn’t show up in the stats, but he really has control of the game out there.”
The game marked the IUP debuts of four new players: starting forward Jeremy Jeffers, a transfer from Division I Drake; sophomore center Kalusha Ndoumbe Ngollo, a transfer from Division II Franklin Pierce (N.H.); redshirt freshman guard Manny Yarde; and Jesse Bosnik, a graduate student who played college and pro baseball the last six years.
Jeffers finished with 10 points, and Ngollo, Yard and Bosnik made their contributions off the bench.
“I felt we got solid performances from the guys on the bench,” Lombardi said. “We’re not looking for them to make great plays; we’re looking for them to complement the other guys and play off the other guys and finish plays when they’re there and make effort and hustle plays.
“Jesse got several offensive rebounds where he read the shot coming off the rim and scrapped and went and got it. And Manny had some possessions of very good defense. Kalusha had some good effort plays, too, diving on the floor a couple times and getting second shots and running the floor hard. Those are just fundamental things and effort plays that we’re looking for from our guys that are subs.”