Devante Chance wasn’t tired.
IUP’s junior point guard isn’t allowed to get tired.
“I’m not tired. I’m never tired,” Chance said after playing all 40 minutes and matching his career high of 18 points in a 74-66 victory over Mercyhurst on Wednesday night at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
[PHOTO: IUP point guard Devante Chance against Mercyhurst's Jean Onana. (Teri Enciso/Gazette photo)]
Chance led a 25-for-27 effort at the free throw line in a matchup of second-place teams in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division. IUP (21-3, 11-3 PSAC West) took sole possession of the spot — and the inside track to a first-round bye in the playoffs — with two games remaining in the regular season.
“Devante, he just has a heart as big as the KCAC,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “He’s a security blanket for me, and I didn’t take him out of the game. Even when he’s not playing well offensively, he brings a toughness and competitiveness, and that wins games. You’ve got to come to fight; you can’t come to just play hard. There’s a big difference.”
Chance, anointed the starting point guard after the end of last season following two years as the backup, played all 40 minutes for the fifth time this season. Proof that he wasn’t falling victim to fatigue came at the free throw line, where he made 11 of 12 attempts, including eight straight with the game hanging in the balance in the latter stages of the second half.
A Philadelphia native generously listed as 5-foot-11, Chance led the charge against a Mercyhurst team (14-10, 10-4) that plays a matchup zone and sprinkles in some junk defenses, mostly a triangle-and-two.
“The way they play their matchup, it’s like zone, but they’re switching man-to-man,” Lombardi said. “We worked real hard on going five out and spreading the floor and getting certain matchups we could drive. We did that, and there were a lot of two-hand tags on drives, so we marched to the line.”
Chance was the ringleader of the attack. For much of the game, IUP ran its offense until the guards, Chance, Mathis Keita and Brandon Norfleet, found themselves with the ball on the perimeter being guarded by a forward. That was a signal to penetrate the defense and drive to the basket.
For Chance, the strategy resulted in a couple buckets and lots of free throws. He went to the line with 9:02 left in the game and IUP nursing a three-point lead and started a string of 13 straight free throws from the guards. IUP finished 19-for-20 from the line in the second half and made 16 of its last 17.
“That was the whole game plan,” Chance said. “They play a lot of matchup zone, so our game plan was to move them around and try to get a big on a small. We were just trying to find mismatches. If we couldn’t drive on the big, we’d try to get the ball inside when they had a little on a big. We were just trying to get mismatches and take advantage of them.”
IUP shot 49 percent (22-for-45) from the floor and overcame 54 percent (25-for-46) shooting by Mercyhurst, which made all but one of its 13 free throws. The Crimson Hawks trailed by one, 31-30, at halftime but took the lead for good with a 6-0 burst that started with Keita’s three-point play off an offensive rebound and two Norfleet layups in transition for a 44-39 edge.
Mercyhurst’s turnovers helped fuel IUP’s second-half surge. The Lakers committed nine of their 15 turnovers in the second half, and IUP converted six of them into 12 points.
“Our guys did a good job on both ends of just grinding out a win,” Lombardi said. “Mercyhurst plays good basketball and made a lot of tough shots. They shot 54 percent against us, and there weren’t too many easy ones. We tried to turn them into a jump-shooting team, and they did a nice job and made some fabulous shots. The turnovers did help us get extra possessions, and we got out in transition, so that helped.”
IUP had an answer every time Mercyhurst made a charge in the second half. Chance drilled a 3-pointer that made it 47-43, and Jeffers hit two free throws and assisted on Norfleet’s layup that made it 51-45. Keita’s layup off a turnover gave IUP a 57-54 lead, and Marcel Souberbielle answered a Mercyhurst 3-pointer with one of his own to make it 62-57.
The Hawks then made seven straight free throws, the first coming on Norfleet’s three-point play on a drive, and IUP put the game out of reach by stretching the lead to 10 points at 71-61 with only 37 seconds remaining.
Norfleet matched Chance with 18 points, Keita scored 13 and dished out a game-high five assists, and Souberbielle had 12 points.
“I’m just happy that we grinded,” Lombardi said. “As a coach, these are the type of wins you really cherish because you’ve got to work hard every second. The guys have got to work and dig down and find something, sometimes more than they think they have. Those games that we won by 25 and 30 don’t challenge the heart you have. Tonight they had a challenge, and they had the competitiveness and desire and played with big hearts and weren’t going to be denied.”
IUP plays its last regular-season home game Saturday against Edinboro. The Fighting Scots (9-15) are coming off a 79-66 loss to Slippery Rock. IUP won the first meeting at Edinboro, 69-66.
“They’re a real good offensive team,” Lombardi said. “Offensively they’re as good as anybody. I told the guys it’s going to be another grind game. You can’t look at the record and think this is what you should do against this team. You just have to play hard and let the scoreboard take care of itself.”