Little by little, the IUP Crimson Hawks are coming around.
They have played three of their four games on the road and won all four by double digits.
They make a rare home appearance Saturday following the home football game against Ashland (Ohio) in the NCAA Division II playoffs. The basketball team plays New Haven (Conn.), a familiar football opponent, for the first time. New Haven is 2-1 after beating St. Rose (N.Y.), 69-65 in overtime, on Tuesday.
IUP’s last outing featured a road matchup against a top 20 team, and the third-ranked Hawks efficiently dispatched Walsh (Ohio), 74-60.
The reference point for this team starts with its medical report.
Leading scorer Shawndale Jones has played four games since ACL surgery in January. He picked up close to where he left off in the seventh game of last season, but he’s not 100 percent, even at 21.8 points per game.
“I’m starting to get back into the groove and getting the feel for things a lot more,” Jones said. “The offense is flowing. I’m starting to get my legs back. So it’s just confidence in the team and the team having confidence in me, so everything is starting to flow.”
Ethan Porterfield, one of the deadliest 3-point shooters in the country last season, hasn’t found his mark following surgery to remove a tumor from a parathyroid gland. He was cleared for practice the week leading into the first game. He’s still averaging 12.5 points and making an impact on defense around the basket, but he’s shooting only 47.5 percent overall and 35.3 from 3-point range.
Porterfield surpassed 1,000 career points Saturday when he scored 11.
“Finally. Finally,” he said in his typical subdued tone. “I wanted to get it a couple games ago, but everything happens the way it’s all supposed to play out. I just know I couldn’t do it without these guys, and I’m just going to keep going.”
The offense hasn’t come all the way around, and a team capable of scoring in the 80s has yet to get there. IUP is shooting only 46.1 percent overall. The Hawks did finish at 50 percent Saturday.
Defensively, IUP had held all four opponents under 37 percent shooting. Last season, IUP was one of the national leaders in field goal percentage defense at .384.
“We control what we can control,” senior point guard Dave Morris said, “and on defense we control the effort and energy and know the offense takes care of itself like it always does. We try not worry about it, just play the game natural and let it flow and stick to our execution and know it’s going to come.”
The 3-point shooting did show signs of coming around Saturday. IUP finished 8-for-25 and is shooting only 32.2 percent on the season. Porterfield made three on seven attempts. Morris, 4-for-20 to start the season, made four on half as many attempts. Jones was 1-for-5. Dallis Dillard, who made his first five in three games, missed for the first time.
Morris, making the moved from off guard to point guard, is averaging 15.0 points and 3.8 assists. Tomiwa Sulaiman, a 6-6 sophomore forward, is averaging 11.5 points and a team-high 7.0 rebounds. Sulaiman was the PSAC West defensive player of the week and Jones the offensive player this week.
“I feel like Ethan is getting into the flow a lot more,” Jones said. “A shout-out to him for getting his thousandth. Dave hit a lot of big shots (Saturday), and he’s getting his confidence up there. I like the way everyone is moving. T (Sulaiman) hit some jumpers. Everybody contributes, and that’s what I love about this team. We don’t worry about points. We’re a family, and we just worry about what we have to do to win.”
Jones hasn’t changed his game. He scores at all three levels, though his 3-point shooting hasn’t come around. He has been deadly at the free throw line. His first free throw attempts came off a 3-point shot in the season opener. He missed the second of three. He hasn’t missed since.
His streak hit 20 on Saturday when he was 9-for-9 and scored a season-high 26 points.
“That was one of the main points I wanted to emphasize coming back,” he said. “I know my legs are not there yet and I’m getting fouled and I know I’ve got to knock down some shots, or when things get tough, I’ve got to be able to make them for the team.”