Their surroundings are no longer familiar. The IUP Crimson Hawks have lost their way.
Now the job of coach Tom McConnell, his staff and the players is to get out the map and compass and figure out how they got so far off course.
And they might have to do it without their best player.
“This is not easy for any of us,” McConnell said Saturday after the IUP women lost their fourth straight game, 69-63, to California, at the KCAC. “We’ve got to find a way to get us back to where we were playing one month ago. We’ve got to do some searching. We’ve got to get back to playing the kind of basketball we were before.”
Just two weeks ago, the Crimson Hawks were soaring high with an 11-1 record and hopes of being a contender for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title. Now, they’re 11-5 overall and 2-4 in the division, and there are only two teams behind them in the West Division standings. If the playoffs started today, the Crimson Hawks wouldn’t be invited.
Oh, and up next is a game at first-place Edinboro on Wednesday.
“We’ve been saying the same thing after these losses: that we’re ready to bounce back,” said IUP guard Leslie Stapleton, who scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds in Saturday’s loss. “But it’s one thing to say it and another to actually do it.”
When the Crimson Hawks take on Edinboro, they’ll likely do it without their leading scorer, Lindsay Stamp, who suffered an ankle injury in the second half and had to be helped off the floor after scoring five points. McConnell said preliminary estimates suggest Stamp, who is averaging 18.7 points per game, will be out a minimum of two weeks.
“We’re going to be without Lindsay for a little bit so we’ve really got to rally around her,” McConnell said. “She’s won a lot of games for us the first month and half of the season, and we’re always talking about team-first. So now it’s going to have to be about the team. Everyone has to take it up a notch.”
That was the thought even before Stamp got hurt. But now, there will be pressure on each of the Crimson Hawks to raise their level of play if they are to get out of this slump, the program’s longest since a seven-game skid at the end of the 2004-05 season.
“I don’t think any of us on this team have lost four in a row,” said Stapleton. “Not two in a row, let alone four in a row.”
The latest loss came with some encouraging news, though. The defensive issues that plagued IUP in the three previous defeats weren’t so prevalent against the Vulcans (10-6, 4-3), and there were times when the Crimson Hawks looked like they were capable of running their rivals off the floor.
But those moments didn’t last long enough. And when those moments ended, California took advantage by attacking the hoop for easy scores and using its defense to force 24 turnovers, a season-high for the Crimson Hawks.
“We have to play for the full 40 minutes,” Stapleton said. “We haven’t been doing that, and I think that’s part of the reason for tonight’s loss.”
IUP trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half, but the Crimson Hawks fought back and were only down by four, 29-25, at halftime. At the break, McConnell implored his team to tighten everything up, and the Crimson Hawks opened the second half on a 9-0 run to momentarily steal the lead back.
But like they had in the past three games, the Crimson Hawks got lost again.
California surged back and kept things close for awhile before taking the lead midway through the half. The Crimson Hawks answered with another run to briefly tie the game, but the Vulcans closed the game with an 8-2 run to seal it.
“We’ve got to bring the passion,” McConnell said. “We need the fire. We have done it some, but we need to do it for 40 minutes. A month ago, we were doing that consistently. We were playing for 40 minutes, knocking people down. We haven’t been doing that lately.”
IUP did have one last gasp, with the Vulcans leading 66-63 with 24 seconds to play. The Crimson Hawks’ Amy Fairman had an open look at a 3-pointer, but her shot was off target and the rebound went out of bounds in the Vulcans’ possession.
“She had a good look at it, but obviously it didn’t work out for us,” McConnell said.
It was a somewhat fitting end of the night for the Crimson Hawks. Much like their previous three losses, they had a chance, but it just didn’t work out.
“I’m confused. Hurt. Upset. There are a lot of words to describe it,” Stapleton said. “Just bad. That’s what I’m feeling: bad.”
Ashley Stoner led IUP with 15 points. California’s Miki Glenn led all scorers with 24 points.
Stapleton and the Crimson Hawks don’t have much time to lick their wounds. Edinboro is next, and breaking this losing streak could come in the toughest game of the year.
“It’s all about the heart and passion,” Stapleton said. “If we lock and up and defend, we can beat anybody. But anybody can beat us if we don’t play like we’re capable of.”