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The No. 9-ranked Crimson Hawks men’s basketball team was able to get into transition early and often to beat an undermanned Seton Hill University team 77-51 Saturday.
Seton Hill, which was without starting forward Max Kenyi’s 12.7 points per game and reserve Skylar Jones, could get very little going offensively in the first half and trailed 37-12 at halftime, Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s largest advantage after one half all season. The second half was much of the same.
“We wanted to keep pushing the ball, and we were able to get out in transition,” head coach Joe Lombardi said. “We got a little sloppy in the end, but for the first 32 minutes, when we got out to a 30-point lead, I thought they did a nice job of executing with what we were trying to do.”
The Crimson Hawks, who boast the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s top-scoring defense (58.9 points per game) and the conference’s second-best opponent’s field goal percentage (38.5 percent), went above and beyond those numbers in the first half, limiting the Griffins to just 16 percent shooting.
“Defensively in the first half, we never let them get comfortable,” Lombardi said.
IUP was able to hold Griffin star Malachi Leonard in check throughout the game. The forward who came into the game averaging 17.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game could manage only 13 points and 5 rebounds, while making only four of 18 shots.
“We were going to double him in the post,” Lombardi said. “I think we were effective. We wanted him to take more shots than he scored points. When you do that, it breaks down some of your defensive rebounding, so we gave up some second shots because of that, but you know that going in that that’s probably going to happen when you start rotating.”
IUP used its defense to jump-start fast breaks that led to easy layups.
“If you get stops, like we have on defense the last few games, there are that many more opportunities to beat them down the floor and have an advantage in numbers,” Lombardi said.
One of the beneficiaries of playing in a more up-tempo offense the past few games has been Brandon Norfleet (sophomore, undeclared).
Norfleet scored a team-high 15 points to lead four Crimson Hawks in double figures and also added six assists and four rebounds. In the last three games, the Cheyney University-transfer has averaged 20 points.
“We feel like we get more points in transition,” Norfleet said. “Coach [Lombardi] really wants us to push the ball and get out so it gets us all involved in the game. I’m more comfortable in the open court because I get to make plays. I’m definitely more comfortable with that.”
Point guard Devante Chance (junior, communications media) also had a good game racking up 12 points, seven assists and four rebounds.
“[Getting out in transition] is just an emphasis that we talked about in practice,” Chance said. “We know we’re good executing in the half court, but getting into transition is the best way to get easy layups. That’s just something we’ve been working on in practice, and we were able to perform out here today in the game.”
Besides the solid defense and fast-break offense, IUP, at least for one night, found production out of its bench.
On Saturday, the second unit scored 29 points, led by Devon Cottrell’s (sophomore, communications media) 12 points and Cornell “Manny” Yarde’s (freshman, computer science) 10 points.
“I think we have a really good bench,” Lombardi said. “I think we have a better bench than most teams in the league do. Devon is like a sixth starter. He could very well be a starter. Manny and Jesse [Bosnik] have really blossomed into really good contributors.
“Sometimes it shows up in points, but a lot of the time those guys make a lot of the plays that don’t show up in points. They do a lot of other little things well that help us win.”
In recent games, Yarde has become a valuable piece to the Crimson Hawks’ puzzle with his athleticism, scoring and knack for offensive rebounds.
“When I’m out there, I just try to give the rest of the guys a boost and come in the game and try to help and contribute as much as I can and help us win,” said Yarde, who grabbed another two offensive boards in his 17 minutes. “That’s all I can do.”
Now at 19-2 and 9-2 in the PSAC, the Crimson Hawks travel to California University of Pennsylvania Wednesday. Cal U defeated IUP 59-56 Jan. 18 for the Crimson Hawks’ only loss this season at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
“I don’t think the Cal game is necessarily revenge,” Lombardi said. “I just think they challenged us the first time, and we didn’t meet the challenge. It’s just nice to have another opportunity to meet the challenge again, and that excites me.”
To win, and keep control atop the PSAC West standings, IUP could use another effective game from Yarde, Cottrell and Bosnik off the bench.
“We definitely feel like owe them one,” Yarde said. “So we’re going to go down there and play hard and play like we always play and not change up our game for anybody.”