It was a night of rediscovery for the IUP Crimson Hawks.
They found themselves.
IUP put together 40 solid minutes, six players scored in double figures, and the Crimson Hawks held Mercyhurst to 35.7 percent shooting in avenging an earlier loss to the Lakers, 83-63, in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division women’s basketball game Wednesday evening at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
[PHOTO: Adrienne Kloecker of Mercyhurst defends against Amy Fairman of IUP. (Teri Enciso/Gazette photo)]
“Our focus the last two days, we just kept saying, ‘Let’s be us. Let’s be who we are. Let’s do what we do,’” IUP coach Tom McConnell said. “And that is to guard the way we know how to guard and share the ball. We had assists on 27 field goals. That’s us. We had good player movement without the ball. That’s us. We had six players in double figures. That’s us. Those are the kind of things we talked about coming into today’s game.”
IUP (16-8 overall) put all the talk into action and clinched a berth in the PSAC playoffs. The Hawks strengthened their hold on fourth place in the PSAC West at 7-7 and can assure themselves a first-round home game with one more win or a Pitt Johnstown loss. IUP plays host to first-place Edinboro on Saturday and closes the regular season Wednesday at last-place Slippery Rock.
“We want to end our season strong with the regular-season games going into the playoffs,” junior guard Amy Fairman said. “These last couple games are very important. We want to go into the playoffs strong and definitely play our best and have confidence going into the playoffs.”
Lindsay Stamp, in her second game following six she missed with an ankle injury, scored a game-high 16 points. Fairman and Leslie Stapleton scored 14 apiece, Ashley Stoner and Zhané Brooks each finished with 11, and Marita Mathe had 10 points and game highs of nine rebounds and six assists without committing a turnover. Fairman also spurred the defense with six steals and two blocked shots.
IUP shot 57.7 percent (15-for-26) from the field in the first half and held a 22-point lead, 46-24, at halftime. Stapleton gave her team a strong start by nailing her first two 3-point field goals, and then everyone got into the act as the Hawks outscored the Lakers 20-4 in the last 5:43 of the first half.
In the second half, IUP stretched the lead as high as 29. The Hawks finished at 45.8 percent (27-for-59) from the floor, led the rebounding 39-35 and forced 19 turnovers while committing only 11.
Defensively, IUP held Mercyhurst (6-18, 4-10) scoreless for the first 5½ minutes of the game. Adrienne Kloecker, who fired in a game-high 23 points in the first meeting, was held to 13. Alayna White, a 5-foot-11 senior forward who had 18 points and 12 rebounds in the first game, finished with 10 and six.
“We wanted to come out strong,” McConnell said. “Leslie got us off to good start by hitting a couple 3s, and at the first media timeout they hadn’t scored, so we were playing pretty good defense. Our guys really hooked up tonight and were communicating well. We were very concerned with their 3-point shooting … and then they have White inside, so the team did a good job of playing good defense.”
IUP was coming off consecutive losses to Gannon and California. IUP held a double-digit lead in the first half against Gannon before suffering a 73-64 loss. At California, the Hawks wiped out a 10-point deficit in the second half but couldn’t finish the job.
“The other focus tonight was playing 40 minutes, not just 20 or 25,” McConnell said.
“We came out strong,” Stamp said. “We were really working on playing 40 minutes, not playing a great 20 and a not-so-great 20.”
If IUP can hold onto the fourth spot ahead of Pitt Johnstown, the playoffs will begin at home against either the Mountain Cats, Clarion or Mercyhurst. A win in the first round would set up a meeting with either Edinboro or Gannon.
“We’re coming in to play our best basketball late in the season, which is the best thing to happen,” Stamp said. We did have some setbacks, but we’re playing really good basketball and catching fire at the right time for the playoffs.”