Starving for a win, first-year IUP women’s basketball coach Tom McConnell looked to remedy his team’s slump by asking his players to simplify things for Saturday’s game against Slippery Rock.
Instead of honing in on issues surrounding their five-game losing streak, McConnell asked his players to zero in on two controllable variables: playing with a fighting spirit and maintaining a positive mindset. The Hawks heeded McConnell’s advice, jumped on Slippery Rock early and ended its slide with a 66-50 win in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division game at the KCAC.
IUP (12-6, 3-5 PSAC West), which won its first six games this season, snapped a skid that began with a 74-62 loss to Bloomsburg on Jan. 8. The Hawks travel to Pitt Johnstown on Wednesday.
“I think this win speaks to the character of our team,” McConnell said. “It’s a very unselfish, team-first group and we talk about embracing the idea of growth all the time. We had two musts that we stressed in practice this week. We talked about coming out with a fighting mentality, really fighting the whole way, and we talked about pointing out the good things we’ve done and the good things we have in this room, because sometimes you lose sight of those things.”
Just 4:25 into the game, IUP point guard Marita Mathe fed guard Leslie Stapleton, who swished the first of her game-high five 3-point field goals to give the Hawks a six-point lead, 9-3. Roughly nine minutes later, Stapleton took a pass from forward Melanie Todd and drilled her third 3 of the night to stretch IUP’s lead to 16 points, 30-14. Forward Ashley Stoner banked in a left-handed baby hook as the final buzzer of the first half sounded to stretch the Hawks’ lead to 21 points, 38-17.
“I’m definitely getting more confident, but all my teammates are making great passes and finding me open, so that’s a big part of it, too,” said Stapleton, an Indiana High School graduate who scored a career-high 22 points. “It felt good to knock down some shots early, especially because we knew it was important to get out to a quick start and not get in any early ruts.”
Four IUP players got on the scoresheet in the first 10 minutes of the second half, and the Hawks maintained at least a 20-point lead until Kara Houppert made a layup with 9:23 to go to make it an 18-point game, 50-32. The Rock chipped away at their deficit and eventually cut it to 11 points, 59-48, when D’Asia Chambers drilled a jump shot with 2:36 left in the game.
The Hawks didn’t waver, however, and they hit 5 of 6 free throws in the last two minutes of the game to seal the win.
Stapleton and forward Alexis Aiken each hit 2 of 2 free throws down the stretch, and Mathe made 1 of 2.
“We were pretty calm about it, but we just knew we had to get this win,” said Mathe, an Indiana High School graduate who scored 11 points and dished out a game-high five assists. “The past few games, we mainly struggled with our defense, so that’s what we focused on in practice this week. We really locked down defensively in this game and focused mainly on that, and it really made a difference.”
IUP committed 10 turnovers and forced 16. The Hawks also made 21 of 54 field goals (38 percent), including 7 of 19 from 3-point range (36 percent). Slippery Rock hit 20 of 58 field goals (34 percent), including 2 of 14 from beyond the arc.
“We let IUP dictate how things were going to go in the beginning,” Slippery Rock coach Tanya Longo said. “But once we got a feel for it in the second half, it was a whole different deal. We won the half, but we still turned it over way too many times to make it a game.”
Stoner scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds, Aiken added five points and a game-high eight rebounds, and Marion Center graduate and guard Amy Fairman chipped in five points, five rebounds and three assists.
Lindsay Stamp, IUP’s leading scorer and the second leading scorer in the PSAC, missed her second straight game due to an ankle injury. Stamp is averaging 18.7 points per game in 16 appearances.