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Wednesday night’s Indiana University of Pennsylvania women’s basketball contest appeared to be an image of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel, “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
It was two vastly different halves when the Crimson Hawks played against the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown.
Crimson Hawk guard Amy Fairman (junior, business management) scored a career-high 24 points and added six rebounds as IUP completed a dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Lady Cats at the Sports Center, winning 85-80 in overtime.
The win improves the Crimson Hawks’ overall record to 13-6 and catapults them into a four-way tie for fourth in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division with a 4-5 record.
It was not a first half the Crimson Hawks want to remember, in which Pitt-Johnstown came out of the start shooting the ball efficiently.
UPJ sharpshooters Kayla DeCriscio, Kelsey Sleighter and Leah Hansen all drained 3-pointers throughout the early stages of the first half to pull away from IUP. The Lady Cats made eight 3-point shots in the first half.
Head coach Tom McConnell said UPJ loves to play at home, and it showed in the first half. “They are very, very good here,” McConnell said.
“They beat a good Cal team, and they beat Mercyhurst. They are comfortable with their rims, and they were just outworking us.”
The Crimson Hawks had difficulties shooting the basketball, but the struggles continued when junior forward Ashley Stoner (senior, English) left the game with a head injury.
Before she left, Stoner had accumulated four rebounds. After Stoner left the court, IUP had two post players earn one rebound a piece.
With Stoner unavailable, McConnell looked to his bench, where Fairman started the game. It proved to be a smart coaching decision by the veteran leader of the Crimson Hawks.
Fairman immediately made a difference, especially when she was on the court with Talen Watson (senior, sports management).
Watson and Fairman were both two of four from the field and were the most proficient shooters on a team that shot the ball at 38 percent in the first half.
IUP entered halftime down 42-31, and McConnell said the game was no longer about X’s and O’s.
“It was about us fighting and competing,” McConnell said.
The second was a different story and a different Crimson Hawks team. IUP showed its resiliency, and the team made smart shot selections.
The players that received the majority of the playing time for IUP were Marita Mathe (junior, safety science), Fairman, Watson, Zhane Brooks (sophomore, chemistry) and Leslie Stapleton (junior, biology/pre-med.)
The Crimson Hawks got production from Brooks in the paint as she managed to score 13 points and grab nine boards.
McConnell was pleased with the play Brooks provided off the bench. “Zhane really gave us a good offensive lift,” McConnell said. “I was so happy for her.”
The IUP defense made stops at crucial moments, despite DeCrisco and Sleighter continuing to have the hot hand from beyond the arc.
“I feel like we have a strong defensive team,” Fairman said. “That is what we try to do.”
With 1:33 to play in regulation, the Lady Cats hit a 3-pointer to take a 75-72 lead.
Fairman said the team’s mindset was to make stops and making plays offensively.
“I think we just went out there and wanted to get a stop on defense,” Fairman said. “We were hoping to go out there, and everything played out for us and it did.”
After a stoppage in play, Fairman answered the UPJ 3-point shot from the previous play with her own 3-pointer with 47 seconds left in the game.
IUP took the lead from a Fairman layup, but UPJ converted their own layup to tie the game at 77 and send it into the extra frame.
Watson gave IUP an 81-80 lead off a pair of free throws, and she made a series of plays to help the Crimson Hawks.
“I liked the way [Watson] ran the team,” McConnell said. “At halftime, we talked about her attacking, and for the most part, she did that.”
Fairman added four more shots from the charity stripe, and IUP completed their comeback against the Lady Cats.
“It was one of those games where we just made one more play than they did,” McConnell said. “I give them credit; they played very well.”
Watson called the comeback “great” and said everyone chipped in.
“We fought hard, we persevered, and our coaches made smart decisions,” Watson said. “It was a collective group effort, and I’m happy we pulled it out.”
Five Crimson Hawks shooters finished the game in double figures, including Mathe who added 15 points and Stapleton with 14.
Watson finished with 19 points, which is a season-high for the senior guard from Maryland.
She credits Crimson Hawks assistant coach Rebecca Tillett for her offensive production.
“When it comes to offense, I look to her,” Watson said. “I can credit her for my offensive game. We are getting better as a team. We know each other, and we love each other.”
McConnell added, “You can’t put a price tag on a team that is unified.”
“This is a very unselfish group,” McConnell said. “No matter what happens, they battle.”
As far as Stoner’s injury goes, McConnell said the team will know more Thursday.
IUP returns to the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex Saturday, Feb. 1, when Clarion University comes to Indiana.