Fresh off of winning a share of the division, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania men’s basketball team opens conference tournament play at home Tuesday versus Mercyhurst University.
IUP, which tied Gannon University for first place in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division title – their fifth consecutive title – will start its title defense of the PSAC tournament against a familiar foe.
Mercyhurst visited the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex less than two weeks ago on Wednesday, Feb. 19, and was unable to keep the Crimson Hawks off the free-throw line in a 74-66 IUP win.
The Crimson Hawks made 25 of 27 shots from the charity stripe, including a 19-for-20 effort in the second half.
“As a coach, these are types of wins we really cherish because you have to work every second,” head coach Joe Lombardi said after the game. “Guys have to dig down and find something more than they think they have.”
Mercyhurst defeated California University of Pennsylvania 54-50 Saturday in an opening-round game. IUP, as the second seed in the West, received a first-round bye.
In the previous win over Mercyhurst, Devante Chance (junior, communications media) tied a career-high with 18 points and was 11 of 12 from the free-throw line while playing his almost-usual 40 minutes.
Chance was one of four Crimson Hawks in double-figures scoring. Brandon Norfleet (sophomore, undeclared) scored 18 points of his own, while the senior duo of Marcel Souberbielle (senior, communications media) and Mathis Keita (senior, communications media) continued to put up similar numbers, scoring 12 and 13 points, respectively.
Mercyhurst was also a near-perfect 12 of 13 from the free-throw line, but 15 turnovers proved costly. When the Lakers did get within two points of IUP’s lead with five minutes remaining in the second half, Souberbielle hit a 3-pointer to put the Crimson Hawks back up by multiple possessions.
IUP also beat Mercyhurst 53-50 Saturday, Jan. 11, in Erie.
In that game, IUP’s first victory at Mercyhurst since the 2009-10 season, the Crimson Hawks led from wire to wire but had to withstand a late run by the Lakers before claiming victory.
Coming into Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchup, the Crimson Hawks are lead in scoring and rebounding by Souberbielle and Keita.
Souberbielle averages 15.8 points per game and adds 5.6 rebounds with Keita contributing 15.2 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Onana’s 10.6 points per game leads a balanced offense for Mercyhurst.
To win its fourth PSAC tournament in five years, IUP will have a tough road ahead, which may turn out to be beneficial for the 23-3 Crimson Hawks.
IUP would potentially face a semifinal matchup with East Stroudsburg University, the top seed from the East. Gannon and West Chester University are lurking in the top half of the bracket for the No. 2 seed.
If this scenario were to happen, two quality wins on IUP’s resume would only help raise the team in the Atlantic Region Rankings.
The top eight teams advance to the NCAA tournament, with the top team in the rankings hosting the regional tournament.
The PSAC champion and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association champion have automatic bids to the tournament, with the other six spots being taken up by at-large bids.
The NCAA Division II Selection Show, which will determine the rankings, is set for Sunday, March 9, at 10:30 p.m.
In other Tuesday quarterfinal games, East Stroudsburg plays Millersville University, Slippery Rock University travels to Gannon and West Chester hosts Bloomsburg University.
The tournament’s semifinal and championship games will be hosted by the highest remaining seed from East this year.
IUP and Mercyhurst are scheduled for a 7 p.m. start Tuesday at the KCAC.