IUP BASKETBALL: Crimson Hawks get No. 3 seed in regional tournament
The IUP Crimson Hawks are going to East Stroudsburg later than they expected, but they are going.
IUP received the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region tournament, which will be played at East Stroudsburg beginning Saturday afternoon. IUP (23-4) plays West Chester (20-9) in the opening round.
The Crimson Hawks had hoped to play at East Stroudsburg this past weekend in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament, but they were knocked out by Mercyhurst in Tuesday’s quarterfinals at the KCAC.
In other games, East Stroudsburg (28-1), the top seed and PSAC champion, plays Livingstone (21-7), the CIAA champion; Gannon (19-9), the fifth seed, plays Charleston (21-8), the fourth seed and Mountain East champion; and Glenville State (18-10), the seventh seed, plays West Liberty (26-3), the second seed and Mountain East runner-up.
“I’m not surprised with the seeding only because going into the last regional rankings we had only four losses and the next closest team ended up with eight,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said, “and I thought our strength of schedule was very close to the other teams in the Mountain East that were close behind us.”
IUP might go into the tournament without one its top players, Marcel Souberbielle, who suffered a groin injury in the loss to Mercyhurst.
Souberbielle, who leads IUP in scoring at 15.8 points per game, was injured in the second half, tried to return and then spent the last 10 minutes on the bench.
“He hasn’t been able to practice up to this point,” Lombardi said. “It will be wait-and-see whether he’s able to do anything. We’re just taking it day to day. At this point the plan is going up there and him not being available for us.”
The Crimson Hawks did not play West Chester in the regular season.
The Golden Rams likely punched their ticket to the regional with Saturday’s 77-76 overtime win over Gannon in the PSAC semifinals, giving the conference four teams in the tournament. West Chester lost to East Stroudsburg, 92-80, in Sunday’s PSAC championship game.
“West Chester kind of came out of nowhere because they weren’t in the last regional rankings,” Lombardi said. “They beat Gannon twice so that helped them. Looking at how things played out in the Mountain East Conference, I thought they’d get four teams in and we’d get three, and yet that was flip-flopped. It was a good day for our conference, not only to get the No. 1 seed but to get four out of the top six seeds.”
West Chester has won eight of its past 11 games, with two of the losses coming to East Stroudsburg and the other to Kutztown. The Golden Rams play up-tempo offense and average 80.7 points per game, second in the PSAC only to East Stroudsburg. IUP allows 59.1 points per game.
“We’re going up there to compete against seven all really good teams that had successful years,” Lombardi said. “We’re flexible enough to play against different styles, and I don’t foresee any potential matchup problems. We’ve watched tape on them already, and they’re a team with a lot of quickness but not overly big. They make you pass and handle the ball and play fast at times. We have enough experience and perimeter players that we can play whatever style presents itself.”
When IUP takes the court Saturday it will be only its second game in 17 days. IUP closed the regular season Feb. 26 and drew a first-round bye in the playoffs before facing Mercyhurst.
“That’s not conducive to great rhythm, but it can work both ways,” Lombardi said. “Maybe that’s a downside, but maybe the upside is that we’ll be the more rested team in the tournament. I’m not sure if it’s a definite advantage or disadvantage.”
After losing in the playoffs, IUP took some time off before returning to practice.
“We took Wednesday and Thursday off, and Friday and Saturday we went two-a-days with a morning shootout from 7 to 8 and then came back in the afternoon and worked on conditioning and our stuff,” Lombardi said. “We worked on facing full-court pressure because we know somewhere in the tournament we’re going to face that. We got our conditioning back up a little bit and had two really productive days after some days of rest. It’s a long year mentally and physically, and teams that do well right now have a certain amount of freshness to them.”
IUP, which earned its sixth straight NCAA tournament bid during a sixth straight season with more than 20 wins, entered the year with four new players in a regular rotation of eight and two new assistant coaches. Souberbielle and Mathis Keita, seniors and PSAC West first-team selections, returned as starters. Devante Chance, a junior and second-team selection, moved in to start at point guard after two seasons as the backup, and Devon Cottrell returned as a reserve at center. The new players in the mix were transfers Jeremy Jeffers and Brandon Norfleet, redshirt freshman Manny Yarde and graduate student Jesse Bosnik, who resumed his basketball career after playing baseball for six seasons, the last three in the minor leagues.
“As a team we take a great sense of pride in what these guys have accomplished this year up to this point,” Lombardi said. “We had the biggest transition we’ve had as a program, losing six guys, and five that played double-digit minutes, and we had to replace all that and two assistant coaches. We had good leadership from the returning guys and had a very consistent effort all year from players to be able to achieve six straight NCAA tournament bids. Sometimes you get in the tournament by winning a three-day event. These guys got in by playing consistent, high-level basketball over a four-month period. I’m proud that they never felt entitled and felt they had to earn it and were able to accomplish the task.”