Some of the names have changed, and most of the roles are different, but it was business as usual for the IUP women’s basketball team.
IUP, with three new starters in the lineup and players coming off the bench in new roles, beat Davis & Elkins (W.Va.) by 29 points, 81-52, in its season opener at Memorial Field House on Saturday afternoon.
“We really didn’t know what to expect because we had some glimpses in preseason of what we could be,” coach Tom McConnell said, and then he chuckled and continued, “and we’ve had some moments where it wasn’t so good. So we didn’t know what to expect or what we would get with a totally new group pretty much. We’re still searching to find the best way for this group to play.”
This group has changed significantly from the one that claimed a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title and captured a second straight NCAA Division II Atlantic Region championship.
But in some instances, it looked the same. The Crimson Hawks moved the ball and made shots on offense and played solid man-to-man defense in a game in which they were heavy favorites.
“I thought we played hard, competed, shared the ball and gave good effort on the defensive end,” McConnell said, “and so that’s all you can ask for, Game 1. If we’re doing those things, hopefully the execution catches up with that.”
IUP shot 49.2 percent from the field, but the Hawks were shooting well over 50 before McConnell pulled his regulars from the game. They made 14 of 30 3-point attempts, led by a 6-for-9 effort from Natalie Myers, and handed out assists on 26 of their 30 field goals. Davis & Elkins shot only 32 percent and didn’t have the firepower to keep up with IUP.
“I thought we did really well,” Myers, a senior guard and one of the returning starters, said. “We came out with energy, playing the defense we wanted to. We came out and did what we had to do to win, and it was good team basketball on both ends. And the intensity was there.”
Myers did what McConnell wanted her to do: Let it fly.
She scored a career-high 22 points, hitting 8 of 12 shots overall. Justina Mascaro, a Delaware transfer in her first game at IUP, hit three 3s, and Courtney Alexander made a pair on seven attempts.
“Natalie shot well,” McConnell said. “Justina shot well, and Courtney, she’s a really good shooter and she’ll have nights like that. They knew they had the green light, and I don’t want them hesitating.”
Myers was the only IUP player to score in doubles, but Mascaro and Alexander finished with nine apiece, and Maura D’Anna and Lexi Griggs each scored eight.
“We shared the ball really well and we all had our shots,” Mascaro said. “I feel like on this team anyone can score. Today it was Natalie, and the next game it could be anyone else.”
Freshman Maria Cerro, a Bethel Park product, made her debut at point guard and finished with five points, four assists and only one turnover. As a team, IUP had only five turnovers with the regulars in the game and finished with 11.
“I was a little nervous but excited at the same time,” Cerro said. “Coach told me to play my game and go out there and be free, and practicing how you play is one thing I like to keep in my head. As a freshman, it’s a different game, and I’m playing with people who just want to win, so I have to be able to get everyone the right shot. And I love doing that.”
“Maria did a really good job of being a playmaker and taking care of the basketball,” McConnell said, “and I just want her to be a playmaker and get the ball to the playmakers and shooters, and she did a good job of doing that. Four assists and one turnover, that’s a good sign.”
Mascaro, a junior, had no doubt that her teammate would rise to the challenge.
“She was my freshman point guard in high school, too,” she said, “so I knew she could do it. I had the most faith in her ever.”
IUP plays West Virginia Wesleyan at 4 p.m. today. Wesleyan beat Mansfield in Saturday’s second game, 71-61.