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“Probably the most hostile environment.”
That’s how Slippery Rock University’s men’s basketball head coach Kevin Reynolds described the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex crowd after last season’s 52-46 defeat to Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title game last March.
While that may have been last year, Saturday’s crowd was arguably just as loud while fans of the No. 15 Crimson Hawks were treated to a 66-64 last-second comeback win over the Rock.
Mathis Keita’s (senior, communications media) layup from a DeVante Chance (junior, communications media) pass put IUP up two with 2.3 seconds left to play.
Tabari Perry’s running 3-point attempt at the buzzer hit off the back of the rim, assuring Slippery Rock of its 24th consecutive loss in Indiana.
The Crimson Hawks’ other senior, Marcel Souberbielle (senior, communications media), scored nine of his team-high 20 points during a game-deciding 17-3 run midway through the second half.
Souberbielle also added a team-high nine rebounds while playing 38 minutes.
“Every game matters, but there’s something special about playing this team,” Souberbielle said of Slippery Rock. “Every time I play them, I want to win more than against any other team. I know it shouldn’t be that way, but it’s a special rivalry. I’m fortunate enough that they’ve never beaten me when playing at home.”
Keita, the Crimson Hawks’ leading scorer at 16.6 points per game, scored four of his 12 points in the last 23 seconds to lead the Crimson Hawks.
“My teammates were open, so I didn’t need to take shots,” Keita said. “My teammates stepped up, and I just made shots at the end.”
The Crimson Hawks, despite shooting just 34 percent and making 10 fewer shots from the field, were able to make the most of their attempts.
IUP held a 7-3 edge in 3-pointers and was 27-34 from the free-throw line, while the Rock was just 9-16 from the charity stripe.
“We don’t have to make a lot of threes, but we have to make our share,” head coach Joe Lombardi said. “We have to make a fair amount because it keeps the offense flowing and keeps momentum. When you play at home, they’re big plays.
“I think we’re a good 3-point shooting team, and we just have to grow with our confidence and improve in that area.”
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, with Slippery Rock’s short-lived eight-point lead the largest of the half for either team.
After Chance was called for a carrying violation with 13 seconds left, Rock guard Sa’Quan Davis was able to convert a driving reverse layup to tie the game at 32 going into halftime.
Maurice Lewis-Briggs scored 18 of his game-high 29 points in the second half, including nine during a crucial stretch early in the second half.
Lewis-Briggs, a transfer from Morehead State who played with current Denver Nuggets star, Kenneth Faried, used his 6-foot-8 frame to harass IUP defenders en route to six offensive rebounds.
Layups by Lewis-Briggs, Parker and Davis capped a 10-0 run that pushed Slippery Rock’s lead to nine at 49-40 with 13:47 left to play.
That’s when Souberbielle started to heat up from the field, knocking down a 3-pointer and two free throws to help cut into the lead.
“Down the stretch down nine, it was a sense of urgency,” Souberbielle said. “We needed to get a stop, and we need to get a bucket. We got a stop, and we ran a play, and I got a wide open three, and that got me going and got us going a little bit. We definitely needed that. We never panicked, and we got the stops we needed. They’re a great team, but again, we didn’t fall. We stayed strong mentally and got the stops we needed.
“If we don’t stay mentally strong during that stretch, a nine-point lead could turn into a 15-point lead and so on. I’m proud of how we played tonight and how we responded to certain challenges.”
Transfer guard Brandon Norfleet (sophomore, undeclared) and reserve guard Cornell “Manny” Yarde (freshman, computer science) had important baskets as IUP was able to get back into the game.
“[Yarde] made some good plays on both ends,” Lombardi said. “He was aggressive on offense and was able to get to the foul line and make some plays. His confidence is growing. He’s a freshman. We have a younger team than what we’ve had in the past with playing four first-year guys or sophomores. Even Jesse [Bosnik]’s in that group since he hasn’t played in six years.
“Over the last four to five years, we’ve had guys who have been more experienced and older. They’re growing up in front of me, and we have different individuals who are improving as the year goes on.”
Yarde’s layup put IUP up 53-51, which caused Reynolds to become irate and was issued a technical foul, much to the delight of the now-loud home crowd. Souberbielle made one of two to give IUP a 54-51 lead, a lead they would not relinquish.
“Before the game, we talk about three P’s: preparation, passion and poise,” Lombardi said. “These guys have done a good job with their preparation, not only the last two days but the last couple months.
“They needed to bring great passion; it was going to be a game of great emotion. When you have that, you have to have enough poise to play with good mental speed. I thought we were able to combine all of those tonight.”
With the game tied after a Lewis-Briggs layup, Jeremy Jeffers (redshirt junior, journalism) and Keita put the Crimson Hawks up four at 64-61 with 23 seconds left.
Slippery Rock, however, refused to go away and Matej Delinac made three free throws to tie the game at 64 after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 14 seconds remaining.
On the final Crimson Hawks possession of the game, Chance drove the ball right to the baseline and got trapped, yet the floor general was able to find Keita streaking in for the game-winning basket.
IUP, now 15-2, moves into a tie at the top of the PSAC West division standings with Slippery Rock, Gannon University and Mercyhurst University, who all have 6-2 divisional records.
The Crimson Hawks play at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown Wednesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.