There stood Will Robinson Jr., the team’s leader in minutes played (718), rebounding (7.7 per game), and attempted shots (303), arms folded in front of his chest. Dressed in a gray travel suit and Ugg boots, the 6’5” forward watched as his teammates warmed up, dropping basketballs in the hoop with flashy dunks. He wouldn’t be playing against Pitt-Johnstown (19-6, 13-5 in the PSAC) Wednesday night.
Enter Lashon Lindsey.
The freshman from Meadville, Pennsylvania, came into his second-career start averaging less than three points per game. He’d finish the night having posted the best performance of his young career.
“I think it hurts any time we have a player out,” head coach Ian Grady said of the absence of Robinson, who is tied for sixth in points scored in the PSAC. “Starter, bench guy, guys that don’t check in. We don’t measure the value of the team by minutes played […] Obviously, with [Robinson]’s production, it was a big loss. But guys step up and we have belief in the guys in our locker room.”
Slippery Rock (12-12, 8-10) entered the game after losing in an embarrassing fashion at Indiana (Pa.) on Saturday, but Lindsey’s effort, combined with Micah Till’s third double-double of the season, washed the taste out of its mouth.
Shooting 51.4% from the field this season, UPJ entered the game as both the Atlantic Region’s fourth-ranked and the league’s most accurate team. However, in the first half, the Rock (51.5%) outshot the Mountain Cats (41.9%.) Till and Lindsey scored more than any Pitt-Johnstown player, combining for 23 points in the half.
Possessing the lead at the break has almost unfailingly been a good omen for the Green and White, and they held a 42-37 advantage when the buzzer sounded.
Slippery Rock led for the entire second half, but not without letting the game get interesting down the stretch. The Mountain Cats pulled within one point with 12 seconds to play, but a stretch-pass dunk that followed, courtesy of Till, turned the lights out.
Till closed the game with 23 points and 10 boards. Redshirt senior guard Donovan Walker added 11 points and five assists and Jared Armstrong poured in seven points as a reserve.
The freshman was the story of the night, though.
But, like Allen Iverson in 2002, Lashon wasn’t talking about practice Wednesday night. He deposited a career-best 16 points, snatched eight rebounds, dished three assists, and swatted away a shot.
After three consecutive turnovers to open the contest, Slippery Rock protected the basketball. The team’s dozen turnovers were a far cry from the 26 giveaways against the Crimson Hawks.
“When we don’t turn the ball over, we’re very good,” Grady said. “And when we do, it hurts us big time.”
The Rock can claim a playoff spot with one more win or a Seton Hill loss in any of the next four games. The Griffins will visit Morrow Field House Saturday for a 3 p.m. tip-off.
The six foot eight Lindsey strolled out of the locker room postgame, smiling alongside Amante Britt, and approached a newspaper reporter.
Britt intervened, not allowing the rookie all of the spotlight.
“Excuse me, I’m his manager,” the sophomore guard butted in.
After playfully shoving Britt away, Lindsey said humbly, “They always tell me to shoot. I never shoot.”
“[I’ll] just do what I usually do,” Lindsey said, matter-of-factly, when asked about his function when and if Robinson returns to the starting lineup. “Grab rebounds, play defense, and play my role.”
“My manager gave the assist in the corner,” Lindsey made sure to mention with a laugh, crediting Britt’s give early in the second half, before trailing off exuberantly with his teammate.