Of course Joe Lombardi was happy to get another win at the start of the season.
He was even happier with some things that happened in the locker room after IUP beat Concord (W.Va.), 80-73, in the second game of the season at the KCAC on Saturday evening.
After each game, the players select a player of the game. Malik Miller, IUP’s senior leader, picked Shawndale Jones, a sophomore transfer guard who posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Then Chucky Humphries, another senior leader, chose a freshman, Ethan Porterfield, and that was special for Lombardi because Humphries, a starter, watched from the bench while a freshman began making his mark on the program.
“Shawndale was voted the player of the game by the players. Malik anointed him,” Lombardi said. “Then Chucky named a second one, and he named Ethan, which in some ways is a big highlight for me because here’s a kid who could have very well been bitter, and some guys would be bitter not being in there the last two minutes, and here’s Chucky, he has that type of humility about him.”
It’s those kinds of intangibles that help build a winning team, and so far Lombardi has liked what he has seen.
“I’m excited about these guys,” he said. “They want to learn, and they never learn as fast as you want, but they’re a good group to be around.”
The player of the game could very well have been Tommy Demogerontas, a senior transfer who posted career highs for 21 points and 13 rebounds. A 6-foot-8 forward, the transfer from Northern Illinois hit two 3-point field goals in succession during a stretch early in the second half when IUP broke a tie and took the lead for good. He finished 8-for-19, including 4-for-10 from 3-point range, and also handed out three assists.
“We felt all along he could be that type of player,” Lombardi said, “and I think he put pressure on himself to be that type player, and that makes it really hard to come to fruition.”
“I just let it fly tonight,” Demogerontas said. “Nineteen shots, I can always do better, and rebounding-wise, I was in there getting boards. It feels good.”
Porterfield, IUP’s other 6-8 forward, came off the bench late in the game to make some plays. He scored on a nice post move to stretch a three-point lead to five and helped quell a 12-4 Concord run. Then, with only 34.6 seconds left, Porterfield drew a foul and stepped to the line for a one-and-one with this team up by only three points. He calmly buried both free throws, and for good measure, he blocked a 3-point attempt on the other end that all but sealed the win.
“He’s got poise and a good basketball mind so the game moves slow for him,” Lombardi said. “He doesn’t get sped up very much. He had a good post move down there, and he also blocked a shot, so he has sneaky length, and as he gets bigger and stronger, he could very easily be our most improved guy by February.”
“Free throws are one of my stronger suits,” Porterfield, a Sharon product said. “It’s the same thing as shooting in the gym by myself: Just take your time and relax.”
Jones had his moments, too. He’s 6-3 but a good rebounder, and six of his boards Saturday came on offense. Two of his buckets came with the game hanging in the balance going into the last five minutes.
“He has a knack to get some things done,” Lombardi said. “I’m glad he found his way a little bit, him and Tommy. Shawndale did a great job defensively, too.”
Miller also scored 21 points a night after getting only seven. Miller, who entered the season as the leading returning scorer at 16.4 points per game, went 9-for-14 from the field, scoring on drives to the bucket and on mid-range and 3-point jumpers.
“It was good to see Malik bounce back offensively,” Lombardi said, also pointing to Miller’s rise in maturity.
“I just try to be more focused on helping my teammates more now that I know what I’m doing a lot more,” Miller said. “I’m just trying to help our new guys because we’re a newer team, and I’m trying to take the focus off myself and focus on everyone else and make sure they do what they need to be doing. Guys are really doing well, and I see each week guys getting better and better, and I’m just trying to help any way I can.”
IUP led by two, 34-32, at halftime. The game was tied at 42 before IUP went on a 15-4 tear highlighted by Demogerontas’ 3s and point guard Dave Morris’ drive.
The Hawks never trailed after that, but Concord did pull within a possession several times a night after knocking off Pitt Johnstown in a close game in which the Mountain Lions shot 34 3s.
IUP held Concord to 6-for-20 shooting on 3-point attempts and 38.5 percent overall. IUP shot only 41.4 percent but made eight 3s and 14 of 18 free throws and led the rebounding by nine, 44-35, with several of their 19 offensive boards coming on key possessions. The Hawks had only three turnovers in the second half after committing nine in the first.
“The game plan was to run them off the 3-point line and limit their shots because they’re a good 3-point shooting team,” Demogerontas said. “We handled our business. That’s an overall good team win.”