In a season that stretches more than five months in length, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania men’s basketball season came down to two free throws with less than a second remaining Sunday, March 16.
With West Liberty University clinging to an 86-84 lead in triple overtime of the NCAA Atlantic Region semifinal, Cornell “Manny” Yarde (freshman, computer science) was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound with 0.8 seconds showing on the scoreboard and stepped to the free-throw line with a chance to send the game into a fourth overtime.
Yarde, making his second consecutive appearance in the starting lineup for the hobbled Marcel Souberbielle (senior, communications media), made the first attempt to bring IUP within one of the Hilltoppers’ lead. West Liberty then tried to ice Yarde by calling a timeout.
That strategy proved to work, as Yarde missed the second shot off the back of the rim. The ball rebounded back to Yarde, whose hurried attempt fell short, ending the Crimson Hawks’ season.
“I think [Yarde] did great,” Mathis Keita (senior, communications media) said in a postgame news conference. “I’m proud of what he did and how he responded to the situation.”
Keita capped his career with 19 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 52 minutes of play in the 55 minute game.
Souberbielle, who suffered a lowerbody injury in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference quarterfinal game against Mercyhurst University, did not start in either of IUP’s two NCAA tournament games but was still a high-impact player. Souberbielle scored a game-high 27 points on 10-20 shooting and had 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season.
“Marcel has been here four years, and he has helped us elevate this program,” head coach Joe Lombardi said in a postgame news conference.
The Hilltoppers entered the game averaging an NCAA-best 102.9 points per game, while IUP had the nation’s second-stingiest defense at 59.1 points per game.
The Crimson Hawks held West Liberty in check for the first half, going up by as many as six points with more than 12 minutes to play. West Liberty cut a five-point deficit with 3:38 remaining in the first half into a three-point lead going into halftime when Kelvin Goodwin made a layup to cap the 8-0 run for the Hilltoppers and take a 32-29 lead into the locker room.
West Liberty controlled the first five minutes of the second half, racing out to a nine-point lead that IUP eventually erased. The Crimson Hawks, up by five points with 4:02 remaining after a Devante Chance (junior, communications media) layup, were not able to hold on to the lead in regulation.
Cedric Harris and Shawn Dyer scored six points down the stretch to get within one point of IUP.
From then on, a theme started: When the Crimson Hawks needed a big shot, it was Souberbielle who consistently stepped up to keep IUP in the game.
Two 3-pointers by Souberbielle down the stretch were pivotal, with the second shot tying the game with four seconds left to send it to overtime.
Neither team could get up by more than three points in the first overtime.
Souberbielle again answered the call when Lombardi needed a big play, as the 6-foot-8 forward hit another three with 25 seconds left to send the game to a second overtime.
Dyer’s layup attempt with five seconds left was off the mark, forcing a second overtime.
In the second extra period, IUP went up by as many as four and never trailed, but Dyer’s 3-pointer with more than a minute remaining sent the game to a third overtime.
The third overtime saw West Liberty jump out to a seven-point lead midway through the stanza, but then Souberbielle scored the last five points for IUP before Yarde’s free-throw attempts.
The Crimson Hawks played the third overtime without guard Brandon Norfleet (sophomore, undeclared), who fouled out with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. IUP used seven players, while the Hilltoppers played nine.
With the win, West Liberty advanced on to the Atlantic Region championship game, defeating top-seed East Stroudsburg University and then defending national champion Drury University in the Elite Eight Wednesday.
The Hilltoppers are now set to play the University of South Carolina Aiken in the Division II NCAA Final Four.
West Liberty ended the Crimson Hawks’ season for the second straight year and for the third time in the last four seasons.
Moving forward, the team will try to replace seniors Souberbielle, Keita and reserve guard Jesse Bosnik (graduate, business administration).
A native of Uruguay, Souberbielle finishes his four-year career at IUP with 1,169 points, which ranks him 19th on the school’s all-time scoring list, and is tied for fourth all-time in games played with 120.
Souberbielle averaged 19 points and 5.5 rebounds in the two NCAA tournament games and for his efforts was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-Atlantic District team. He was also chosen to Reese’s Division II Challenge College All- Star game to be played Friday night in Evansville, Ind., as part of the Division II championship weekend.
Keita, who transferred to IUP after two years at Division I Gonzaga University, finishes his two-year career with the Crimson Hawks with 874 points.
Bosnik, in his first year playing college basketball after playing baseball the previous six years, was a key reserve guard for IUP.
Souberbielle and Keita were named to the PSAC West Division first team, while Chance, who played 54 of a possible 55 minutes against West Liberty, highlighted the second team after finishing the season second in the PSAC in assists per game with 4.3.
Lombardi, who entered the season faced with a roster with seven new players, will now be faced with the task of replacing the tandem of Souberbielle and Keita, who accounted for 44.2 percent of the Crimson Hawks’ scoring this season and 40.3 percent of all shot attempts.
IUP will retain its backcourt of Chance and Norfleet and frontcourt players Jeremy Jeffers (junior, journalism) and Devon Cottrell (sophomore, communications media). Norfleet and Jeffers transferred into the program for this season, while Cottrell led the team with 59 blocked shots.