GREENSBURG — The Seton Hill Griffins threw a parade Saturday afternoon.
It wasn’t because the newcomer to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference claimed its first win in its new league, or that it came against a nationally ranked IUP team that was undefeated.
The Griffins made a seemingly endless parade to the free throw line, and that’s where Seton Hill made a big difference in defeating IUP, the 25th-ranked NCAA Division II team in the country, 63-62, on Meghan Mastroianni’s layup in the closing seconds.
Seton Hill (5-3) put pressure on IUP’s defense with its inside game and dribble penetration, and that resulted in the Griffins making 28 of 35 free throws. IUP took 25 more shots from the field than Seton Hill, 52-37, and made six more field goals, 22-16, but the Hawks made only 11 of 18 free throws.
“We’re fortunate that we have a good interior presence with our post play inside as well as the dribble,” first-year Seton Hill coach Mark Katarski said, “and that’s where we put pressure on teams as far as fouls. We hoped to get their posts in foul trouble because their depth there is not as good as other places, and we were able to do that and take advantage, and it worked in our favor.”
IUP’s trio of post players, Ashley Stoner, Zhan￩ Brooks and Melanie Todd, spent most of the afternoon in foul trouble and contributed only two points to a struggling offense that was without point guard Marita Mathe, who sat out with a foot injury. The big advantage in foul differential came in the second half, after IUP gave away a 12-point halftime lead during Seton Hill’s 16-4 run in the first 10 minutes. IUP committed foul after foul in the second half, and Seton Hill paraded to the line on every infraction after the 14-minute mark.
Seton Hill made 20 of 28 free throws in the second half and went 9-for-16 from the field. IUP shot only 34.5 percent (10-for-29) in the second half, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range after making 7 3s in the first half, and went to the line 10 times.
“We didn’t come out,” Tom McConnell, IUP’s first-year coach, said. “We always talk about starting fast, and we didn’t do that. We just got a couple quick fouls and they got in the bonus way too early, and once they were in the bonus, they’re a very good foul-shooting team and it was too difficult to overcome. Our challenge now is to learn to play and get stops without fouling.”
IUP still had a chance to keep its winning streak going. IUP’s Lindsay Stamp scored the last of her game-high 24 points on a three-point play that tied the game at 58 and a bucket that tied it again at 60. After Seton Hill regained the lead on Katie Gattuso’s free throw with 21.3 seconds left, IUP’s Talen Watson drove for a layup and a 62-61 edge with 8.5 seconds left.
But Seton Hill immediately inbounded the ball, and Mastroianni streaked to the basket for the go-ahead bucket with 3.1 seconds left. IUP, coming out of timeout on the last possession, never got the ball across half court before committing a turnover.
“I could give you all the clich￩ stuff and say it’s just another game on another day,” Katarski said. “We came into the conference and knew it was going to be a challenge, and IUP is a great example of this league. Coach McConnell does a wonderful job, and the truth is, we’re 1-3 in the PSAC and it’s good to win at home, but it’s our first win as a program in this division, and it’s something memorable. And the fact that it came against the 25th-ranked team that’s undefeated is important, but the way we respond from here is going to be more important, and we don’t want to let this be our one moment.”
IUP seemed well on its way to its seventh win without a loss by taking a 35-23 lead into halftime. Seton Hill’s Gattuso, who averages double figures in points and rebounds, was relegated to the bench after drawing a personal foul and then a technical foul that gave her three for the game, and it seemed the Griffins were on the brink of unraveling.
But the opposite happened, and the Griffins regrouped at halftime. Seton Hill denied IUP’s ability to get offense through its defense by taking care of the ball, and the Griffins fueled their offense at the free throw line. Defensively, Seton Hill shelved the zone defenses it used in the first half and stuck to man-to-man. The Griffins denied IUP on the perimeter, and the Hawks’ interior game was practically non-existent with the post players spending most of the time on the bench due to foul trouble.
“We switched what we were doing defensively in the first half and just tried to lock in on people,” Katarski said. “They have good personnel that are good at what they do, and we felt guarding people in their role was more important in the second half, and our group did a good job there.”
IUP takes the week off for final exams before playing Millersville and Shippensburg the following week.
“We didn’t get the movement we wanted in the first half and were a little stagnant, and then we allowed them to get back in the game,” McConnell said. “And once we finally started to get some movement, now it’s a game. It’s something we’ll correct and something we’ll get better at.”
Watson scored 11 points and Amy Fairman had 10 for IUP. Stamp had a game-high 10 rebounds.
Paige Alvianni led Seton Hill with 17 points, and Gattuso finished with 15. Mastroianni and Tiara Stossel scored 12 each. Stossel, an Indiana High graduate, made 8 of 10 free throws, and Gattuso made 9 of 12.