Jesse Bosnik was the man on his high school basketball team.
He might never make a game-winning shot or put up big numbers as a one-year player at IUP, but the short stretch he turned in Saturday night sure did make a big difference.
Bosnik helped the Crimson Hawks answer a wake-up call in the second half by turning in three big plays in succession early in the second half of a 78-65 win over Edinboro at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. With the win, IUP celebrated a successful senior night and secured a first-round bye and a second-round home game in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference playoffs.
“How about Jesse and the spurt he put together there that started with the offensive rebound he slapped out after he came out of nowhere?” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “And then he knocked down a 3 and got a steal. That was a beautiful moment for him and his family, to play like that in a two-minute span. That’s probably how he played over the course of a game back in high school.”
An all-state player at Elk County Catholic, Bosnik led his team to a state title as a junior, but at the end of his high school career, he decided his best future was in baseball. So he went to play Division I baseball at St. Bonaventure, and after three seasons, he was drafted in the 13th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He spent three years in the minor leagues before deciding to retire and join the workforce.
Then Lombardi called and suggested Bosnik use his one year of remaining college eligibility to play basketball. He needed a role player, not a big man on campus, so Bosnik put the real world on hold for one more year and enrolled in graduate school.
Bosnik comes off the bench and averages 14 minutes of playing time per game. He did draw a start Saturday on senior night, and after an uneventful first half, he took his usual spot on the bench at the start of the second and waited his turn to get into the game with the score tied at 37.
It came about five minutes into the second half with IUP trailing 45-43. In a span of little more than a minute — 1:12, to be exact — Bosnik sprinted to the baseline to swat an offensive rebound to the top of key, and Marcel Souberbielle eventually drained a 3-pointer for a 46-45 lead. On the next possession, Bosnik buried a 3 from the right corner for a 49-45 lead, and then he came up with a steal on the left sideline and passed ahead to Mathis Keita for a dunk that made it 51-45.
All that started a 13-0 burst that propelled IUP into the lead for good.
“That one stretch there, in my opinion it was a pretty big stretch,” Bosnik said. “The tip-out, the 3, the steal and the dunk, we got some momentum there. Those are of the type of things I need to do to help us win. That’s what I try to do, and it was a fun stretch there.”
IUP’s three seniors, Souberielle, Keita and Bosnik, were introduced before their last regular-season home game, and each was presented with a framed jersey bearing his number. Souberbielle, a native of Uruguay, was joined by his father, who made the trip from South America, and Keita was escorted by Janet Lombardi, the coach’s wife, because his family couldn’t make the trip from his native France. Bosnik’s parents made the short drive from St. Marys.
In the closing seconds, Lombardi took each one out of the game separately to rousing ovations.
“It was very emotional for me,” Keita said. “I love college, I love IUP, and it was a little tough for me to think about this being one of my last home games. I just wish my dad and mom and sister could have been here to walk out with me. That’s kind of why I’m in college, because they pushed me to do it. I also want to thank Mrs. Lombardi for walking out with me.”
Keita, who torched Edinboro for 28 points in a 69-66 victory on Jan. 22, finished with four points but handed out eight assists, one short of his career high.
Souberbielle scored 27 points, two off his career high. His three tip-ins on offensive rebounds helped IUP grab a 22-14 advantage on the boards in the second half after the Crimson Hawks were outrebounded 16-8 in the first. He made 10 of 15 shots, grabbed a team-high six rebounds and came up with four steals.
“I’m not going to lie, I had little butterflies before the game,” Souberbielle said. “The whole week was like senior week. It’s not over, but it’s going to be over soon, and there are only so many games left. It makes me think back through my career and the moments I’ve had, and I hope to make some more good moments to remember.”
Senior night didn’t start out looking like there was going to be much to celebrate. In the first half that featured 17 lead changes and four ties, Edinboro shot 56.5 percent (13-for-23) from the floor and led the rebounding by eight. IUP made 15 of 20 shot inside the 3-point arc but missed all nine of its 3-point attempts.
In the second half, IUP (22-3, 12-3 PSAC West) held Edinboro (9-16, 2-13) to 37.5 percent shooting, scored 15 second-chance points off 10 offensive rebounds and chalked up nine points off six turnovers. IUP finished at 50 percent (31-for-62) from the floor, made five of its last nine 3-point attempts and had 23 assists on 31 field goals.
Souberbielle led five IUP players in double figures. Jeremy Jeffers scored 14 points, and Devante Chance, Devon Cottrell and Brandon Norfleet chipped in 10 apiece. Chance also handed out eight assists.
“The second half was a case of feeling threatened and being 100 percent committed on the defensive end,” Lombardi said. “The first half was wanting to play defense but not being 100 percent committed to it. There’s just that slim margin for error.”
“Also the first half, credit Edinboro. A lot of teams would have packed it in right now, but they wanted this challenge and embraced it and played as good on offense as they have all year. Their guys made tough shots. They’re much better than what their record indicates, and they’ve lost so many two- and four-point games.”
IUP closes the regular season Wednesday at Slippery Rock (19-8). The playoffs begin next Saturday, but IUP won’t play until the following Tuesday against the winner of the matchup between the third- and sixth-place teams. The third through sixth slots remained up for grabs after last night’s games. The second-round winners advance to the home of the highest remaining seed in the PSAC East, which serves as the host for the semifinals and championship game March 8 and 9.
“That’s a nice opportunity, and I’m glad we’re playing there,” Lombardi said of the trip to Slippery Rock. “I’m glad we’ll have a chance to take on that challenge. There are all kinds of challenges over the course of the year, and sometimes you’ll be up against it, and we’ll find out as a coaching staff and a group of young men if we can find the answers to it.”