CALIFORNIA — For a seven-minute span in the second half, the IUP women’s basketball team essentially forgot about playing its worst 20 minutes of the season in the first half Wednesday against California.
Unfortunately for the Crimson Hawks, their turnovers down the stretch and inclination for surrendering easy baskets allowed the Vulcans to regain their composure and finish the game the way they started it.
IUP erased a double-digit halftime deficit and took a five-point lead midway through the second half, only to stumble in the game’s waning minutes and allow California to finish on a 10-2 burst and sweat out a 62-56 win in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference game at the Convocation Center.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Hawks which began on Jan. 25. Fourth-place IUP (15-7, 6-6 PSAC) plays host to second-place Gannon on Saturday.
“That first 20 minutes, digging ourselves a hole and only scoring 15 first-half points, that’s tough,” first-year IUP coach Tom McConnell said. “So we just talked about (how) we’ve got to be able to come out and put two good 20-minute halves, back to back like that. You can’t feel the game out. You’ve got to come out on the road and be ready to play from the very beginning.”
IUP misfired on seven of its first 10 shots from the field and didn’t attempt a 3-point field goal until 11½ minutes into the game.
The Vulcans, conversely, drained 4 of 5 3-pointers in the first 6:29 of the game, the fifth of which forward Emma Mahady buried to put California ahead by nine points, 15-6.
IUP tightened up defensively and forced the Vulcans to shoot 3-for-10 from the field in the last 10 minutes of the first half, including 0-for-3 from beyond the 3-point arc.
However, after falling behind by 10 points, 19-9, midway through the half, IUP shot just 2-for-14 from the field and committed five turnovers in the last 10 minutes.
The Hawks missed four straight field goal attempts in the last 1:30 and trailed by 10 points, 25-15, at halftime.
“I just kept telling the team, ‘Keep defending like you’re defending (because) we’re going to start scoring the basketball, and we did,’” McConnell said.
California played stingy defense, forced nine first-half turnovers and held IUP to 19 percent shooting from the field in the first half.
“When we bring that kind of defensive intensity it’s hard for other teams to run their plays and do what they want to do, although I think our intensity dropped a little bit in the second half,” California coach Jess Strom said.
The Hawks chipped away at their deficit in the early stages of the second half and then mounted a 10-2 spurt to nab their first lead of the game. Guard Leslie Stapleton capped the run with a layup in transition to give IUP a 38-36 lead with 11:02 to play.
Guard Marita Mathe drilled a 3 on IUP’s next possession before forward Ashley Stoner banked in a short jump shot on the ensuing possession to give the Hawks their biggest lead of the night, 43-38, with 8:57 to play.
The Hawks and Vulcans forged four ties between the 7:14 mark and the 3:49 mark.
IUP guard Alexis Aiken tied the game for the sixth time and banked in a shot in the paint to make it 52-52 with 3:27 to go.
But after Aiken’s basket, the Hawks made just one of their last six field goal attempts and 2 of 2 free throws while allowing the Vulcans to reach the line five times, where they sunk 8 of 10 free throws in the last 3:19 of the game.
Guard Kaitlynn Fratz swished a pair of free throws to give the Vulcans a 60-56 lead with 28 seconds to play.
Ten seconds later, guard Miki Glenn grabbed a rebound off an errant 3 from Stapleton, drew a foul, and then knocked down a pair of free throws to stretch the Vulcans’ lead to 62-56.
And it stayed that way.
IUP guard Talen Watson clanked a pair of jump shots off the rim in the last 10 seconds of the game to seal the Hawks’ fate.
“It was definitely a scrap,” said Watson, who made 8 of 20 shots from the field and scored a team-high 20 points. “We fought hard and like Coach (McConnell) said, ‘There’s nothing that can be said that could downplay our effort.’ We fought hard and came back, but all we can do is learn from this and be ready to put up the same fight for Gannon on Saturday.”
Stoner scored four points in the first 1:49 of the game but finished with just 10. Stoner set a school record in the Hawks’ win over Seton Hill on Saturday, finishing 11-for-11 shooting from the field to make the most shots without a miss since Sherri Leysock went 9-for-9 in 1991.
IUP, which forced nine turnovers and committed 21, outrebounded California, 47-29, including 32-20 on the defensive glass. The Hawks made 22 of 55 shots from the field (40 percent) and the Vulcans hit 18 of 58 (31 percent).
Stapleton chipped in 12 points and six rebounds for IUP. Zhané Brooks scored six points and added a game-high 10 rebounds.
IUP guard Lindsay Stamp, the team’s leading scorer and the PSAC’s second leading scorer who’s averaged 18.7 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game in 16 contests, returned from a five-game injury hiatus but didn’t play. Stamp injured her ankle and missed five straight games between Jan. 22 and last Saturday.