The No. 11 men’s basketball team used a strong first half effort to run away from visiting Clarion University 82-61 Saturday at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
Brandon Norfleet (sophomore, undeclared) scored 20 points to lead four Crimson Hawk players in double figures. Norfleet scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half and finished with seven rebounds and three assists.
“Brandon got a lot of things done,” head coach Joe Lombardi said of Norfleet, who scored 25 in Wednesday’s 91-68 win over University of Pittsburgh- Johnstown. “He’s had a great week, and he’s capable of those types of outbursts. I thought he passed the ball really well. He couldn’t have played much better in 25 minutes that he had. His defense is getting better.”
The Golden Eagles traded baskets early in the first half with IUP, and even held a short-lived 22 second lead when Anthony Baker drilled a 3-pointer to make it 10-9.
Layups by Norfleet, Devante Chance (junior, communications media) and Devon Cottrell (sophomore, communications media) quickly got the game back in the Crimson Hawks’ favor.
From then on, it was all IUP in the first half, as they took a 46-26 lead into the locker room at halftime.
In the second half, IUP was up by as many as 30 with just under seven minutes to play before cruising to the 21-point victory.
“I was happy with our energy,” Lombardi said. “I was happy with how we responded then. Everything is a challenge in a game. Getting off to a good start is a challenge. Getting ready to play a team with a great record is a challenge. It’s a different type of challenge being ready to play a team [whose] record is not as strong.
“I was real pleased with how we competed. Same thing with Wednesday. We seem to be maturing. We’re committed to the process and committed to playing with one another. We’re doing the things we want to do: rebound, take care of the ball. I thought we shared the ball really well.”
Lombardi said he was concerned with his team’s play late in the second half as Clarion used a 7-0 run to cut the IUP lead to 23.
“At that point in the game, you just want to keep having good habits,” Lombardi said. “A bucket here or there maybe didn’t matter in the outcome of this game, but we’re trying to still get better.
“The game of basketball has a lot to do with fundamentals and good habits.”
However, Lombardi said he was pleased with Norfleet’s emergence as a possible third-scorer option to take some of the offensive load away from leading-scorers Marcel Souberbielle (senior, communications media) and Mathis Keita (senior, communications media).
“I think it’s real important that we have a third scorer,” Lombardi said. “[Chance] could be that guy, but the way we run our system and our offense, we don’t look for our point guard to take 10, 11 or 12 shots. It’s good that Brandon has evolved.
“I think the value where he’s really impacting us is he’s becoming a better all-around player: a better rebounder, a better defender. And he makes others better with his passing. We don’t need for him to get 20, and we don’t look for him to get 20, but some nights when it does happen, it’s a good game.”
Another bright spot for the Crimson Hawks was Yarde’s play off the bench. The redshirt-freshman had 11 points, three assists and seven rebounds, including five on the offensive end, in 19 minutes.
“He always defends, he always rebounds,” Lombardi said. “He’s getting better at making plays off the dribble and finishing at the rim.”
Keita, who failed to reach double digits in scoring for just the fourth time all season, played more of a distributing role as he finished with seven assists and no turnovers.
“I just do whatever the game gives me,” Keita said. “Today, my teammates were open, I passed them the ball, and they made shots.”
IUP, now 18-2 – and 8-2 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference – will have a week to prepare for the Seton Hill University Griffins, who come to town Saturday. Seton Hill is tied for fifth in the PSAC with a 4-6 record, while IUP is alone atop the division.
Action is set to tip off in the KCAC at 7:30 p.m.