RICHLAND TOWNSHIP — The IUP Crimson Hawks put on quite a show Wednesday night, and everyone got into the act.
Marcel Souberbielle surpassed 1,000 points in his career, Brandon Norfleet scored a career-high 25 points, and point guard Devante Chance made several highlight-reel passes in a 91-68 romp over Pitt Johnstown in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division basketball game at the UPJ Sports Center.
IUP shot 55.4 percent from the floor, topping 50 percent for the first time in eight games and for the fifth time this season, and scored a season high in points. The 23-point winning margin was IUP’s second largest of the season and its first blowout win since a 32-point shellacking of Kutztown on Dec. 21, which is the last time the Crimson Hawks were able to empty their bench.
“There were a lot of good efforts out there,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “It started with Devante just running the team and just being a pillar of calmness and poise and execution. Six assists and no turnovers, you’re going to have a pretty good night when your point guard does that. And a lot of guys contributed, including Marcel, and Brandon had a little bit of breakout game.”
Lombardi was concerned that his team might suffer a letdown following Saturday’s 66-64 victory over Slippery Rock in which Mathis Keita scored the winning points on a layup with 2.3 seconds remaining in front of more than 3,100 fans on the Hawks’ home court. His team showed him there was no reason to worry.
“I don’t think Slippery Rock was a statement game,” Lombardi said. “This was more of a statement game because it shows we can have some success and still be ready and mature enough to compete. A lot of teams can get up for a home game when there’s almost a full house and they’re playing in a big rivalry, but not a lot of teams can come back after that and be ready to go against a good team like we were tonight. I’m extremely pleased and excited about moving forward and seeing where else maturity can take us.”
IUP held a 38-35 lead at halftime against a hot-shooting Pitt Johnstown team that nailed its first five 3-point field goal attempts and 6 of 8 in the first half.
The Crimson Hawks (17-2, 7-2 PSAC West) returned to the floor after a brief session in the locker room and proceeded to run the Mountain Cats (10-9, 3-6) off the court. IUP turned up its defense and turned on its transition game, taking rebounds and blocked shots on fast breaks, with Chance dishing one slick pass after another to teammates. After extending the lead to 11 points at 53-42 five minutes into the second half, the Hawks buried Pitt Johnstown during a 21-7 burst that stretched the lead to 25 with eight minutes remaining.
IUP dominated the rebounding 35-20, recorded a season-high seven blocked shots, including four by sophomore center Devon Cottrell, and held Pitt Johnstown to 40 percent shooting, including 1-for-5 from 3-point range, in the second half. Cottrell also raked in a game-high eight rebounds and scored 10 points.
“I didn’t have a lot to tell them at halftime,” Lombardi said. “Defensively we were doing a nice job on some things. UPJ was playing really well on offense, and defensively there were just a couple things we needed to keep staying with and give them a little less space on shooters. Offensively, we scored 38 in the first half so there were not a lot of things broken there.”
Souberbielle, the lone fourth-year player in the program, entered the game needing 10 points to become the 28th player in school history to reach 1,000. He got there with a couple free throws late in the first half.
The 6-foot-8 senior forward from Montevideo, Uruguay, finished with 24 points, scoring 20 or more for the seventh time this season. He made 7 of 9 shots from the field, including 2 of 4 3-point attempts, and 8 of 9 free throws. He is averaging 16.3 points per game, second only to Keita’s 16.6.
“I’m happy because it shows my commitment to the program,” Souberbielle said. “Coming here as a freshman and really not having the role I have today and just progressing and being all about the team, and this year having the opportunity to have more responsibility and more of a scoring role, I’m proud of that because it speaks to the work I’ve done and how I’ve progressed each year. I couldn’t have done it without all these guys who encouraged me and the coaching staff that helped me get better.
“I’m happy for it, but it’s just another step. If I could trade it for one or two games that we lost this season, I would do it without hesitation. I’m happy about it, but it’s just a stat, and we’ve got to keep moving forward and getting better.”
Norfleet went 9-for-14 from the field and 7-for-7 from the line in surpassing the career high of 21 he set last year when he was the PSAC Freshman of the Year at Cheyney. After transferring to IUP, he had to sit out the first seven games due to an academic issue. He scored in double figures in his first four games and then had no more than six in six of the next seven, including a scoreless outing in a 67-61 overtime loss at Gannon.
“He got out in the open court, and that’s what he really does well,” Lombardi said. “Unfortunately, we don’t play as much in the open court as he played at Cheyney, so he has to learn to play in the half court and play in our system, and he’s working on it.”
The 6-4 combo guard from Virginia Beach, Va., also handed out five assists, grabbed six rebounds, came up with three steals and raised his scoring average to 10.1 points per game.
“Coach was just getting it in my head to stick to the process and just keep grinding and one of these games I’ll have a good game, and it just happened to be this one,” Norfleet said. “We’ll see what happens from here.”
While IUP maintained its share of first place in the PSAC West, Slippery Rock (15-6, 6-3) fell one game behind with an 87-86 overtime loss at last-place Clarion. Gannon (11-8, 6-3) also dropped a game behind with a 62-59 loss at California. Mercyhurst (11-8, 7-2) remained in a first-place tie with a 57-47 win at Seton Hill.
IUP plays host to Clarion (4-13) on Saturday.