The IUP men’s basketball team was met with their toughest challenge yet this season.
The Crimson Hawks barely escaped with a 65-60 victory over New Haven on Saturday at the KCAC, needing a late 8-0 run to pull away from the visitors after leading comfortably in the first half. The Chargers, helped by a zone defense to go along with 53.8 percent shooting, made a push in the second half and made it a close game down the stretch.
“We’re happy to win, we’re thankful for every win we get,” said IUP coach Joe Lombardi. “We’re happy with the lessons that we can learn from this and how to get better from it.”
After a successful 3-point play from Quashawn Lane with 4:10 remaining in the game tied it at 53, relentless New Haven had finally erased a Hawks lead which had stood since the 10:48 mark of the first half and had grown as high as 14.
Neither team scored again until Shawndale Jones (graduate student, Eberly College of Business) knocked down a pair of free throws to put IUP up two, 55-53, with 2:38 to play. A dunk by 7-footer Majur Majak of the Chargers once again tied the score, now 55-55, with 2:25 left to play and the Hawks seemingly reeling.
With the game imperiled, Dallis Dillard (sophomore, communications media) answered with a jumper from the free throw line, which bounced around the rim and in and gave IUP the lead for good at 57-55 with 1:59 remaining. A stop on defense, a mid-range pull-up from Dave Morris (redshirt senior, kinesiology, health and sport science) along with four more free throws put the game out of reach and the Hawks hung on for the win.
“We feel fully confident that all five guys can create and make plays (down the stretch),” said Dillard, who scored 12 points on the night including the shot which started the game-sealing 8-0 run. “I guess it was just one of those nights where it was my shot.”
Dillard was one of three IUP players to score in double digits.
Jones finished with a game-high 20 points despite a poor shooting night, and Tomiwa Sulaiman (sophomore, kinesiology, health and sport science) posted his second double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 rebounds along with three blocks.
In order to understand the significance of the last three minutes of the game, one must first understand the first 37.
The Chargers came out firing from beyond the arc, with six of their first eight shot attempts coming from 3-point range. New Haven made four of six 3-point shots in the opening five minutes of the game and were out to a 12-7 lead.
After going down early, the Hawks began to pick up their play. IUP responded with a 23-4 run, starting with a mid-range jumper from Sulaiman at the 14:16 mark. Over the next 10:30 of gameplay, the Hawks shot 8-for-13 from the field and 4-for-4 from the line.
During the same stretch, IUP also held New Haven to just 3-for-15 shooting, 0-for-5 from beyond the arc, forced four turnovers and now led 30-16 with 3:46 left in the first half.
After a quick 6-0 run by the Chargers, Jones was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three of his subsequent free throws to put IUP ahead by 11 points, 33-22, as the first half came to a close.
“The way we closed the half, I think it was probably one of the better ways we could have closed,” said Dillard. “Just so that we had a little cushion.”
The second half started relatively even for the first few minutes, with the Hawks maintaining a double-digit lead. Jones’ jumper at the 13:59 mark gave IUP a 41-30 lead, but that’s when New Haven switched from the man-to-man defense it had played for most of the game to a 1-3-1 zone.
The zone disturbed IUP’s offense, and though the Hawks got some quality looks they shot just 37.5 percent (9-for-24) in the second half.
“I was comfortable with the looks we got (against the zone),” said Lombardi. “But some of them we struggled at the end of the possession. It was like we were waiting for the perfect shot.”
The Chargers defense jumpstarted their comeback. After New Haven switched to zone, the Hawks had five consecutive empty possessions without a basket and scored just five points over the next eight minutes, with their only makes being an old fashion 3-point play by Sulaiman with 9:51 remaining, and a tip in by Damir Brooks (redshirt freshman, academic affairs) at the 8:47 mark. Meanwhile, the Chargers reeled off a 9-0 run and had now climbed back to within two, 41-39, with 10:12 left in the game.
While the Hawks had a hard time finding a rhythm offensively, the Chargers began to put it together, shooting 5-for-9 from the field during that eight-minute stretch to go along with two makes from 3-point range.
“We were just trying to find a way to get the ball in the middle and work it around,” said Jones, who leads the team in scoring with 21.4 points per game. “Everybody wasn't doing too well at the time and guys had a lot of missteps.”
Leading just 46-44 with 6:34 left to play, Morris knocked down his first 3-pointer of the game followed by a short corner pull-up from Dillard which put IUP up 51-44.
New Haven scored on its next four possessions to tie the game at 53 with just over four minutes to play.
IUP then outscored the Chargers 10-2 over the next 3:36, securing the win and avoiding its first loss of the season.
In a game where three of IUP’s top scorers in Jones, Morris and Ethan Porterfield shot a combined 6-for-30 from the field and just 2-for-9 from 3, the Hawks looked to players like Dillard and Sulaiman to pick up the pieces.
“We're more than just three guys,” said Dillard. “Those guys know that they could depend on guys like me and T (Tomiwa) to kind of pick up the slack if they're not having a great night.”
Jones led the team in scoring once again with 20, and though he struggled from the field shooting just 3-for-13, he was able to contribute by getting to the line.
“I had to make sure that I could get to the free throw line,” said Jones who went 13-for-13. “If I’m not getting shots this way or making things that way, I know I could be consistent at the line to help my team as much as I can.”
While IUP is not satisfied with the style in which it won, getting outscored 38-32 in the second half, the Hawks are just happy with the fact that they did win, no matter how it happened.
“I love the resilience of our team,” said Jones. “Whether it's a bad win, a good win, whatever it is, it's a win and I'm proud of our team and we'll learn from it.”
“You got to get (wins) in all kinds of ways,” said Lombardi. “We’re fortunate the game was 40 minutes today. I think we got outplayed in the first 36, but I think our guys showed some resolve and showed some of their championship type character in not getting discouraged.”
IUP (5-0) opens up PSAC play this weekend with a pair of crossover games against PSAC East teams. On Friday, they’ll travel to Mansfield (1-2), followed by another in-conference matchup Saturday at Bloomsburg (0-3).