LOCK HAVEN — Joe Lombardi ran out of words.
To those who know the IUP basketball coach, that might seem unusual, but at a crucial point in Saturday afternoon’s game at Lock Haven, Lombardi decided it was best to remain relatively quiet.
Less than 24 hours removed from a disheartening 61-56 win at Mansfield, IUP trailed Lock Haven by 10 points early in the second half. Lombardi called a timeout and delivered a quick message to his team: “I said, ‘You guys coach yourselves. There’s nothing else I can say. It’s about you guys and having the will to win more than they do.’ And they responded. Sometimes the best coaching is when you do less.”
IUP came out of the timeout, mounted a game-changing 18-4 run and charged into the lead en route to a 70-64 victory in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference crossover game. IUP remained unbeaten at 12-0.
“The guys coached themselves today,” Lombardi said. “We haven’t been challenged over the last three or four games, and guys get locked in when they feel challenged. We needed to come together as a unit. That’s what you try to do over the course of year: improve as a team and become closer. And sometimes you need some adversity and need to feel challenged to get locked in. I’m proud of the guys and happy with how they responded.”
IUP, ranked sixth in NCAA Division II, turned in its worst performance of the season the previous day, and it seemed to carry over for a good portion of the game Saturday. Plus, Lock Haven (7-5) is an improved team under third-year coach Mike Nestor, and playing well in the Bald Eagles’ Thomas Field House is often a difficult task.
After shooting 27 percent (8-for-29) in the first half and trailing at halftime (26-24) for the first time this season, IUP faced its largest deficit of the season when Lock Haven took a 44-34 lead at the 14:21 mark. Lombardi used the timeout, and a couple possessions later the Crimson Hawks made seven straight shots, including three 3-point field goals by Marcel Souberbielle, to forge a 52-48 lead. They went on to lead by 10 at the end of a 30-10 burst with 4:14 left.
“The power of oneness in any type of situation is important, and we got an understanding of that a little bit today,” Lombardi said. “I’m more excited about that than the win. That experience you go through of being down and fighting to come back and come together as a team, that will serve us well the rest of the season. It gives us an understanding and clarity of our purpose out there. I couldn’t be happier with this win. It’s as good as we’ve had this year.”
IUP shot 61 percent (14-for-23) in the second half. Souberbielle led the way, making 6 of 10 shots and scoring 19 of his 26 points to match his career high. He made three straight 3-pointers and converted a 3-point play during the 30-10 run. He also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds and handed out all three of his assists in the second half.
Jeremy Jeffers, who did not play Friday due to an illness, started the run with a basket, and Devante Chance followed with an 18-foot jumper and a 3-pointer. After Souberbielle’s first 3, Devon Cottrell dunked off Mathis Keita’s assist, and Souberbielle put IUP up 52-48 with two more 3s.
“As coaches you like to think you have all the answers, but it’s the players’ game,” Lombardi said. “It’s all about the players and wanting to come together and be a close-knit group and wanting to sacrifice yourself. To be good team you have to have less self. I can help them become a good team, but I can’t help them become a great team.
“(On Friday) I was disappointed with how we played mostly because I was disappointed with how we didn’t link up. We won that game on talent. Today we had mental talent, mental toughness and mental understanding, and they all depended on each other for the team’s success.”
Chance scored 13 points and was the only other IUP player to reach double figures.
Lock Haven’s Wali Hepburn, the PSAC’s leading scorer at 19.9 points per game, finished with 23. Kasheef Festus, who entered the game averaging 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, was held to five points and five rebounds.
IUP plays at home Wednesday against Bloomsburg in the last of its PSAC crossover games.