IUP’s men’s basketball team seemed to do everything right Tuesday night in their quarterfinal matchup. The Crimson Hawks dominated with a balanced scoring attack on offense, and slowed down the red hot three-point shooting of Pitt-Johnstown to win 77-66.
The game played out very similar to IUP’s domination of UPJ last year in the first round in the PSAC playoffs. The Mountain Cats took an early lead before the Crimson Hawks (21-7) three-point shooting took off. IUP hit four three-pointers within two minutes in the first half and never looked back from there.
The closest UPJ (18-11) got to the Crimson Hawks the rest of the way was three points near the end of the first half. Even then, IUP destroyed the Mountain Cat threat quick by ending the half on a 9-0 run to lead by 12 at the break. The Crimson Hawks defense forced UPJ into 16 turnovers while holding them to only seven three-pointers. Most teams will take seven three-pointers but when it’s the main source of offense, that number is simply not enough.
IUP finished their complete game performance in the second half by controlling the rest of the game with a balanced offense. For the game, the Crimson Hawks finished the game shooting at 50 percent while having four players reach double-digit point totals. The Mountain Cats did try and claw back again, cutting the lead to as low as six points with just four minutes left. But just like the first half IUP’s defense suffocated UPJ and punched a trip to West Chester for the PSAC men’s final four.
As one would expect PSAC West athlete of the year, Brandon Norfleet, led all scorers on the floor with 22 points. Norfleet’s efforts were backed by 12 points from Anthony Glover, and 11 points from Tevin Hanner and Jacobo Diaz. Diaz hit three of the four early three-pointers that helped the Crimson Hawks jump well in front of the Mountain Cats. Isaac Vescovi and A.J Leahey led the Mountain Cats again with 21 and 17 points respectively. Leahey did not make a single three-pointer in the game, but still scored his 1,000th career point and now will take dead aim at the Mountain Cats all-time scoring record next season. IUP drew host West Chester for the PSAC semi-finals, seeking to return to the PSAC finals while trying to avenge a loss at home to the Golden Rams in November.
Mercyhurst 84 Clarion 68: There may be no hotter team in the PSAC playoffs right now than the Mercyhurst Lakers. For the fourth-straight game the Lakers came out of the gate shooting scalding hot, eventually cruising to an 84-68 over the underdog Clarion Golden Eagles in the PSAC quarterfinals Tuesday night. After losing three-straight games in early February, the Lakers have played their best basketball the past two weeks. A regional playoff berth seemed farfetched after the losing streak, now it is becoming very much a reality again. Mercyhurst squashed Clarion’s hopes at another shocking upset early by racing out and maintaining a double-digit lead for most of the first half.
The Lakers (19-8) drilled eight three-pointers in the first half and took advantage of a technical foul on Clarion head coach, Marcess Williams. Eventually, the Golden Eagles found themselves down 25 at halftime. Clarion (14-16) did everything to fight back in the second half again by outscoring the Lakers, but the deficit was simply too much this time. Mercyhurst has always been known for defense over offense in past years. With their recent play, this could be the best offense the Lakers have had in recent memory. The Laker seniors have been the backbone to the success, most notably the play of Kayode Ajenifuja. Ajenifuja led all scorers with 23 points, 18 of which came in the dominant first half. Mercyhurst is also getting the production they have been waiting for from fellow senior, Jean Onana, who had his second straight excellent game with 18 points. Clarion was led by Rob Agurs scoring 19 points in his final game in his collegiate career. Now Mercyhurst will take on Shippensburg in the first of two PSAC semifinals Saturday afternoon. Shippensburg upset PSAC east champ Kutztown Tuesday and also defeated the Lakers in Erie back in November. If the Lakers continue this play on offense, they could be set to do some serious damage in West Chester this weekend.