IUP BASKETBALL: Hawks extend streak vs. rival Slippery Rock
January 26, 2014 1:39 AM
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Another season, another IUP-Slippery Rock basketball game in Indiana and Kevin Reynolds is still trying to figure it out.

Reynolds fell to 0-7 as Slippery Rock’s coach when his team plays at IUP, and the Rock has lost 24 straight in Indiana dating to the 1991-92 season.

This one, like a couple others, left him shaking his head after IUP’s Mathis Keita scored on a layup with 2.3 seconds left to lift the Crimson Hawks to a 66-64 victory in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division game in front of 3,126 boisterous fans at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex on Saturday night.

[PHOTO: IUP President Michael Driscoll joined the student section to cheer on the Hawks on Saturday. (Teri Enciso/Gazette photo)]

The previous six IUP-Slippery Rock games were decided by a total of 20 points, and this one fit right into the mold. IUP made the biggest difference at the free throw line, hitting 27 of 34 attempts to Slippery Rock’s 9 of 16. The Rock scored 10 more field goals than IUP, 26-16.

“It’s hard to lose by two when you score 10 more baskets,” Reynolds said. “That is hard to do. We scored 26 baskets to their 16, and they shot 22 3s to our 16. That’s hard to lose a game by two points when you score 20 more points on baskets and you’re shooting more 2s. That’s hard to do. It’s hard to lose a game that way. It’s really hard to do. You can read between the lines on that.”

It doesn’t require an interpreter to decipher Reynolds’ comments: He was not happy with the officiating. He even drew a technical foul in the second half.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve had some really hard games to swallow,” he said. “Those are hard games to swallow when you score 10 or 15 more baskets and shoot less 3s and lose. I’d like to see how often that happens in Division I or II. It happens to us regularly. That is hard.”

IUP coach Joe Lombardi offered his explanation of why his team made it to the free throw line so many more times than Slippery Rock.

“They got up and played us tonight,” he said of the Rock’s defense. “I’ve seen some of their other games where they’re spacing off people, and tonight they got up on us on every catch, and we drove the ball strong and were able to get the free throw line. A couple years ago we shot 62 free throws against them. They get aggressive when they play against us, and our guys drove it strong, and that made the difference.”

IUP fell behind by eight points in the first half, rallied to pull ahead by six and settled for a 32-32 tie at halftime.

In the second half, Slippery Rock staged 17-8 run in the first six minutes to take a nine-point lead at 49-40.

IUP answered with a 14-2 run to take a 54-51 lead and never trailed after that, although the game was tied three times in the final five minutes, the last coming with 13.2 seconds left when Slippery Rock’s Matej Delinac was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws despite IUP’s screaming, feet-pounding fans.

That set up IUP’s last possession. IUP inbounded the ball, and point guard Devante Chance took a dribble handoff across half court and drove right along the 3-point line before cutting to the baseline, where he was met by two defenders. He was cut off before reaching the basket and spotted Keita streaking down the center of the lane. He slipped a pass that Keita took in stride and laid in for the go-ahead bucket.

After a timeout, Slippery Rock’s Tabari Perry got off a 16-foot runner at the buzzer, but it was too strong, and the IUP students in the crowd stormed the court.

“There’s no genius involved in that,” Lombardi said of his team’s last play. “You find the guy that had the hot hand and made the most plays, and that was Devante. We gave the ball to Devante and ran a little misdirection type thing and you just hope he makes a play and just hope the guys are trained to react to whatever he does and get a good look.”

“It was just basically a dribble handoff on the right side and I try to take it to the lane and make something happen,” Chance said. “They stopped me and I tried a drop-step and looked for the open man, and Mathis was coming down the lane. Everybody was watching me, and he saw the opportunity to cut to the lane so it was a good play by him, and I just tried to make the pass.”

Prior to IUP’s last play, the Hawks turned in two big stops on defense while holding a 62-61 lead. Slippery Rock, which committed only nine turnovers in the game and only one in the second half until the final minute approached, turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, the first on Brandon Norfleet’s steal with 1:02 left and the second on Devon Cottrell’s steal with 33 seconds left.

IUP didn’t convert on the first, but Keita made two free throws on the second for a 64-61 lead. Delinac then answered with his three free throws.

“All credit to Slippery Rock and that kid making three free throws in this environment,” Lombardi said. “For him to step up and do that showed a lot of courage. They’ve got a lot of toughness on that team. They play well together, and Kevin is a terrific coach, and he gets his players to compete and play well together. They’re a program that helps us get better. They bring out the best in us. Our guys know how hard they’ve got to play and how well they’ve got to play to pull it out.”

IUP survived a 29-point effort by Slippery Rock’s Maurice Lewis-Briggs, a 6-foot-8 senior transfer from Morehead State.

Marcel Souberbielle led IUP with 20 points, and Chance and Keita scored 12 apiece.

“We stuck to it during the ups and downs in the game,” Souberbielle said. “Give them credit: If we played 10 games they’d all be close down to the last minute. We were fortunate to make the extra defensive plays and get one more bucket than them. I’m just proud of how we stayed focused and stuck to it when they got a little bit of a lead in the second half.”

IUP’s victory forged a four-way tie atop the PSAC West standings after Slippery Rock entered the night in sole possession of first place. IUP, Slippery Rock, Gannon and Mercyhurst are all 6-2 with eight games remaining. IUP plays at Pitt Johnstown on Wednesday to begin the second half of division play.

“They beat us at our own game: taking it to the hole, getting to the basket a bunch, playing more physical than us,” Reynolds said. “It was a close game again, a one-possession game, and they just made one more play than we did.”

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