With a chance to take a stranglehold on the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division, Indiana University of Pennsylvania dropped a 67-62 contest to visiting Gannon University Saturday.
The Crimson Hawks, the No. 7 team in the National Association of Basketball Coaches Top-25 Poll, now drop into a tie with Mercyhurst University for second place in the division with identical 10-3 records.
“The wind got in our face a little bit tonight, and some guys blinked and maybe I blinked too,” head coach Joe Lombardi said. “This loss hurts as much as the other two losses we had this year.”
Gannon, which sweeps the season series from IUP for the first time since the 2008-09 season, used tough defense and rode the bench-play of Rogerio Livramento to neutralize what had been a hot-shooting IUP team, who came in to the game averaging nearly 83 points in the last three games.
The Golden Knights forced IUP to beat them on 3-point shots but kept the Crimson Hawks to just 12 of 31 shooting from downtown.
More importantly, Gannon limited IUP’s chances for fast-break opportunities, which had been a staple of IUP’s offense the last few games.
“You shoot big numbers when you get layups,” Lombardi said. “We didn’t defend well enough to get layups. Gannon is one of the better defensive teams in the country.
“Our success on offense is feeding off our defense.”
The Crimson Hawks had no answer for Livramento, who was nine of 10 from the floor, made all seven free throws he attempted and finished with a game-high 25 points.
“Winning is hard,” Lombardi said. “I know we made it look easy, but there are a lot of talented teams out there and a lot of hungry teams. [Livramento] looked like an All-American.”
Neither team was able to get much offense going, as it took nearly two minutes until Gannon got on the scoreboard. It took almost another three minutes for IUP to score, as Devon Cottrell (sophomore, communications media) converted a layup in the paint.
IUP took its first lead of the game when a Jeremy Jeffers (junior, journalism) 3-pointer put the Crimson Hawks ahead 20-19.
In the second half, Marcel Souberbielle (senior, communications media) gave IUP its biggest lead at eight with 13:31 to go in the game. The Golden Knights responded when Livramento scored eight consecutive points, and Adam Blazek scored a layup to cap the 10-0 run to give Gannon a two-point lead.
A men’s basketball record of 3,621 fans filled the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex, but the Gannon run effectively took the IUP crowd out of the game.
Souberbielle, who finished with a team-high 21 points, answered back with one of his five 3-pointers in the game, and Jesse Bosnik’s (graduate, business administration) free throw gave IUP its last lead of the game at 46-44 with 8:51 remaining.
The Crimson Hawks got within two on another Souberbielle long-range shot, but Girbran Smith’s four-point play put Gannon up eight with under three minutes remaining.
After the game, Lombardi was still optimistic about the Crimson Hawks’ chances in the upcoming PSAC tournament.
“I believe in this group,” Lombardi said. “We can still do something special.”
Souberbielle, though disappointed in the loss, was not ready to dwell on the defeat.
“It’s disappointing,” Souberbielle said. “It’s basketball: You win and lose. We didn’t lose a championship today. We just didn’t have a good game overall.”
Starting guard Brandon Norfleet (sophomore, undeclared) got three fouls in his two minutes of first-half playing time, which was a blow for the Crimson Hawk offense. Norfleet had been averaging 18.5 points the last four games.
“I didn’t want to sit him the whole half,” Lombardi said on why he put Norfleet back into the game with two fouls. “A lot of times, players who aren’t experienced, when they sit long periods, they might as well be done for the whole game.
“I was concerned with that, so I thought I would sprinkle him in a couple times in the first half.”
Mathis Keita (senior, communications media), who scored 10 points to go with six rebounds and six assists, pointed to IUP’s defense late in the second half as the difference in the game.
“We couldn’t get a stop when we needed to,” Keita said.
Mercyhurst will come to the KCAC Wednesday night for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff. The winner will have a firm grasp on second place in the West Division.