KUTZTOWN — It didn’t take long for the IUP men’s basketball team to show Kutztown why it’s undefeated and ranked seventh in the NCAA Division II Top 25 on Saturday.
IUP jumped out to a 10-point lead less than nine minutes into the game and then smothered the Golden Bears the rest of the way to improve to 10-0 with an 88-56 shellacking in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference crossover game at Keystone Arena.
“I don’t believe we’re 40 points better than any team in our conference. In fact, I don’t even think we’re 20 points better,” IUP head coach Joe Lombardi said after watching his team hold Kutztown to a season-low in points. “But sometimes the game takes on a life of its own and things get out of control. They lost their confidence early and our guys hit a little bit of a stride. It was just a combination of our experience and their youth.”
The Golden Bears failed to handle the defensive pressure from IUP guards Devante Chance and Mathis Keita and forward Marcel Souberbielle in the first half. Chance and Keita each nabbed three first-half steals and Souberbielle had two, and the Hawks scored 15 points off turnovers in the first half.
Following a Keita steal, guard Brandon Norfleet took an outlet feed from forward Devon Cottrell and scored on a fastbreak layup to give the Hawks a seven-point lead, 13-6, just 8:20 into the game. Roughly 3:30 later, Chance swiped a steal and launched a pass to Souberbielle, who banked in a layup in transition to stretch IUP’s lead to 14 points, 24-10, with 7:53 left in the first half.
IUP forced 10 first-half turnovers and committed just three.
“We talked to the guys about being more active with their hands and trying to create more opportunities defensively,” Lombardi said. “Kutztown has a lot of underclassmen and we wanted to make them uncomfortable with our defensive pressure. I thought we were very active on defense and created a lot of turnovers, and that led to some easy buckets. … That was the best we’ve looked all year in that department.”
After committing a turnover and allowing the first field goal of the second half, the Hawks found a groove and went on a 16-0 run. Norfleet fueled the spurt with six points, and Souberbielle, who drained a 3-point field goal to give IUP a 28-point lead, 51-23, added five points.
The Hawks collected 10 more turnovers in the second half and led by more than 22 points for the last 11:50 of the game.
Keita, who scored a game-high 26 points, drilled a pair of free throws with 3:49 to play to give IUP its most sizeable lead of the day, 85-43.
“Overall we did a number of things well, but to me the biggest thing on the offensive end was Devante’s eight assists,” Lombardi said. “He made a number of good passes that Matis and Brandon were the receptionists of. Devante took advantage of his opportunities to spread the ball around, and Matis and Brandon were definitely benefactors of that in the scoring column.”
For just the second time in his tenure at IUP, Lombardi will enjoy Christmas with an undefeated team. The eighth-year coach, who guided the 2009-10 team to an 11-0 start, admitted that he’s pleasantly surprised regarding the Hawks’ present early-season run.
“I don’t think as a coach you ever envision the first part of the season going like that. You look at the schedule and realize it’s very easy to stumble along the way,” Lombardi said. “It’s a pleasant surprise, but we’ve also played tougher schedules in the past.”
Norfleet, a first-year transfer who was the PSAC East Freshman of the Year at Cheyney last season, played just 26 minutes and grabbed six rebounds and scored a season-best 21 points.
Keita played just 27 minutes and nabbed four steals and corralled a game-tying high eight rebounds, Souberbielle played just 29 minutes and had 16 points, six rebounds and three steals, and Cottrell played just 19 minutes and collected eight points, seven rebounds and a game-high five blocks.
Chance amassed a game- and season-high seven steals, and Bosnik had six assists, three rebounds and a steal.