There aren’t any cupcakes on the menu this Thanksgiving weekend at IUP’s Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
IUP, 4-0 and ranked 10th in NCAA Division II, plays host to the IRMC Classic this weekend, taking on Shaw (N.C.) at 3 p.m. Saturday and University of the Sciences, of Philadelphia, at 3 p.m. Sunday. Pitt Johnstown is the fourth team involved and plays the first game at 1 p.m. each day.
“We’re excited to have Shaw coming into the classic,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “They’re probably one of the better teams to come to the classic over the years, and this is our seventh year of having it. They’ve always been a power in the region. In the last five years, if they didn’t make the NCAA tournament, they were in the top 10 or 12 of the regional rankings.”
Shaw, which plays in the CIAA, comes in at 1-3 with three straight losses, all in close games against good competition.
“They play a tough schedule early on, including coming up to here,” Lombardi said. “They’re not afraid to go on the road and compete, and their schedule doesn’t indicate the quality team that they are.”
IUP and Shaw have met only once, in 2012 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Shaw won 62-54 and finished the season 27-4.
“We played them three years ago and they beat us in the NCAA tournament,” Lombardi said, “so we have a lot of respect that goes along with the name and the program. They’ll be one of the more athletic teams we play, and they have great size. There are a lot of different styles we’ve had to play against early in the season, and this one will be a new style we’re going up against. They’re picked in the upper half of the CIAA, so this is a great regional game for us, and it should be exciting. Our guys are looking forward to playing them.”
In Sunday’s matchup, Garret Kerr, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, leads Sciences. He averages 21.8 points per game.
“He’s an honorable mention Al-American, an inside player who’s a little bit undersized but just like a throwback player,” Lombardi said. “He knows how to play and get things done. He’s not going to wow you with great athleticism or speed; he’s just a really good basketball player. There are a lot of guys on their team like that. They’re not real big and not real athletic, but they know how to play the game and be solid and compete. They’re one of those teams that’s a lot better than it looks when they come out on the floor.”
IUP has won all four of its games by a comfortable margin behind seniors Mathis Keita and Marcel Souberbielle, junior point guard Devante Chance and redshirt sophomore forward Devon Cottrell.
Four newcomers have yet to make an impact. Jeremy Jeffers, a 6-7 junior, transferred from Division I Drake (Iowa) and starts at forward, and Kalusha Ndoumbe Ngollo is a 6-8 sophomore transfer from Division II Franklin Pierce (N.H.) who comes off the bench. Jesse Bosnik, a graduate student and guard, played baseball the last six seasons, including the past three in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization. Manny Yarde, a redshirt freshman who practice with the team last season, was named the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division Freshman of the Week last week.
“One of our needs is to continue to develop the new guys,” Lombardi said. “The veterans understand some things and have been productive, and the new guys are making progress. I’m optimistic and believe they can be a lot more productive than they’ve been up to this point. … They’ve all made contributions to the wins we have, and they have a little more to offer that hopefully time will bring out.”
Lombardi is appreciative of the fact that IUP has the support to hold an annual tournament.
“There are two reasons we value the tournament,” he said. “It gives us a couple more home games, and obviously every team has a better chance to win at home. When you’re dealing with thin margins and trying to make the NCAAs, and some years when you’re talented enough to host a region tournament, that’s important. If not for IRMC’s generosity and support, we’d have more games on the road. With them and the other corporate sponsors we have throughout the year, we’re able to generate the revenue we need to bring these teams in … so those initiatives help us be more successful in the win column.
“The other reason is whether it’s around Thanksgiving or Christmas, it’s a nice holiday event for the community, and maybe people have family in town and want to take them to a game and enjoy basketball and the atmosphere at the KCAC over the Thanksgiving weekend.”