While most Indiana University of Pennsylvania students were enjoying five weeks away from campus on winter break, the men’s basketball team continued its winnings ways.
By the time the Crimson Hawks next play on the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex hardwood, the team will be in the thick of their conference schedule and looking toward bolstering their postseason seeding.
So with over a month of basketball that has been going on over break, here is a run down of some things to know and to look forward to as IUP aims to repeat as champions of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
The Crimson Hawks now sport a 15-2 record overall with a 5-2 mark in the PSAC West division. IUP rose as high as No. 5 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches Division II poll, but consecutive losses before Wednesday’s win over Edinboro University of Pennsylvania dropped the Crimson Hawks to No. 15.
Coach Joe Lombardi’s team is led by seniors Marcel Souberbielle (senior, communications media) and Mathis Keita (senior, communications media) who average 16.9 and 15.6 points per game, respectively.
Keita, an honorable mention All- American by the Division II Bulletin and preseason All-PSAC selection, adds 5.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, both good for second on the team.
DeVante Chance (junior, communications media) has dished out 3.9 assists per game in his first season as the primary ball-handler.
The floor general has amassed a 57-game streak of recording at least one helper.
Devon Cottrell (redshirt sophomore, communications media), while playing just 21.3 minutes per game, is tied for the rebounding lead (5.9 boards per game) for the Crimson Hawks with Keita. Cottrell is also the team leader in blocked shots to round out the statistical leaders.
IUP started out hot from the first tip, averaging over 80 points per game in the first three contests en route to winning the first 14 games on the schedule. During the streak, the Crimson Hawks won seven at home and seven on the road. The team won by large margins (like the 88-56 victory at Kutztown University on Dec. 21) and in close games (like the 56-54 win at Seton Hill University on Dec. 7).
After the 14-game win streak to open the year, IUP began its first losing streak of the season after consecutive losses to Gannon University and California University of Pennsylvania.
It’s been five years since IUP has dropped consecutive games. The last time it happened was in the 2008-09 season when the Crimson Hawks lost to the University of Pittsburgh 86-60 and then Alderson Broaddus 62-60.
Gannon entered the Jan. 15 game with just an 8-7 record before upsetting the Crimson Hawks 67-61 in overtime. Three days later, Cal U was able to keep the high-powered IUP team relatively in check for the first half, as the Crimson Hawks faced their largest halftime deficit to date, down 25-18.
Cal U took the lead with 10:30 left in the first half and never looked back, leading by as many as 13 down stretch and held on en route to the 59-56 victory.
With their 69-66 victory over Edinboro Wednesday, IUP avoided going into their toughest test of the season against Slippery Rock on a three-game losing streak.
IUP hosts The Rock Saturday.
By virtue of the two division losses, IUP now sits in a two-way tie for third place in the PSAC West. Slippery Rock University (15-4 overall, 6-1 PSAC) leads the division, while Gannon (11-7, 6-2) is second. Mercyhurst University (9-8, 5-2) is third with IUP.
In the PSAC East, East Stroudsburg University is off to a perfect 17-0 overall start with seven division wins. Bloomsburg University (10-6, 6-1), West Chester University (12-5, 5-2) and Lock Haven University (11-6, 4-3) are the only other East division teams with division records above .500.
IUP leads all of Division II in scoring defense, giving up a paltry 57.4 points per game. Since an 87-70 victory in the home opener Nov. 16, no opponent has topped 70 points or more.
The Crimson Hawks have also guarded the 3-point line exceptionally well, limiting opponent’s to converting just 26 percent of attempted 3-point field goals, the top mark in the PSAC. Overall, IUP ranks second in the PSAC in field goal defense at 37.7 percent.
In addition to leading the team on offense, Chance has turned up the intensity on defense.
His 2.1 steals per game lead the PSAC in the category.
With 37 steals already this season, Chance needs just five more to match his total for last season.
Keita looks to find groove
After starting off the season averaging 26.3 points per game in the first three contests of the game, Keita has topped 20 points just four times in the last 14 games to drop his scoring average to 16.9 points per game.
A three-game stretch in early January was particularly harsh for Keita, as he converted on just seven of 19 field goals, including a combined 2-12 effort from beyond the arc, while his scoring dipped to season lows of seven, six and seven points, respectively.
In the last three games, however, Keita has seemed to find his stroke while scoring 21, 20 and 28 points, respectively.
When the Crimson Hawks last played a home game while school was in session, Brandon Norfleet (sophomore, undecided) was patiently waiting permission to suit up for the team.
Norfleet, the reigning PSAC East Freshman of the Year last year at Cheyney University, transferred in this season and was finally able to dress in the Dec. 17 game against Millersville University.
The 6-foot-4 combo guard started his first five games and scored in double figures in each occasion, including a season-high 21 against Kutztown University on Dec. 21.
Through 10 games, Norfleet has averages of nine points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.
Bosnik continues to progress
Jesse Bosnik (graduate, business administration), the former high-scoring high school hoopster who was drafted away from the St. Bonaventure University baseball team in 2010, continues his progression as a college basketball player.
Bosnik, who had not played a competitive basketball game since his Elk County Catholic team was eliminated from the state playoffs in March 2007, was in Lombardi’s starting five for three consecutive games in a seven-day stretch earlier this month.
A rivalry renewed
The Crimson Hawks return home for the first time in the spring semester Saturday against Slippery Rock. Last season, IUP defeated The Rock 52-46 in the PSAC title game.
However, only five players who played in last year’s championship game will be in uniform this time around for IUP: Keita, Souberbielle, Chance, Cottrell and reserve guard Tony Rocco (sophomore, communications media). In contrast, Slippery Rock only returns redshirt seniors Tabari Parker and Sa’Quan Davis.
Fans who know the rivalry that has been forged between these two schools expect a hard-fought game. However, recent history shows that IUP has had the upper hand on The Rock for some time. Including the postseason, Slippery Rock has dropped 23 consecutive games played on the IUP campus. The last win for The Rock in Indiana was a 79-73 victory during the 1991-92 season.
Tipoff at the Kovalchick Complex is set for 7:30 p.m.