The Slippery Rock men’s basketball team (17-7, 8-4 PSAC-West) took control after a slow second half start against the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown (12-10, 5-7 PSAC-West) to defeat UPJ 88-77.
Heading into halftime, the Rock held a six-point lead over UPJ (41-35).
“We ended the half so poorly,” head coach Kevin Reynolds said. “We were up 11 with 44 seconds remaining with the ball but we turned it over twice.”
The Mountain Cats came out aggressive in the second half and took the lead after a minute and a half went by (42-41). UPJ extended their lead to 45-41 before SRU could answer.
It wasn’t until redshirt sophomore forward Erik Raleigh made a layup with 15:59 remaining in regulation that SRU answered UPJ’s 10-point run.
“We got too loose there,” Reynolds said. “Turnovers were our big problem. We felt like if we could get some shots and make some plays, we’d be in good shape. We were able to do that.”
Slippery Rock’s strength against UPJ fell in their free throw percentage. SRU shot 95.7 percent (22 of 23) from the line. UPJ made 68 percent (17 of 25) of their free throws.
Shooting 100 percent from the line were senior center Maurice Lewis-Briggs (five for five), redshirt senior forward Tabari Perry (two for two), junior forward Kelvin Dixon (seven for seven), redshirt junior guard Antonio Butler (four for four) and Raleigh (one for one).
“We went harder on the inside in the second half,” Perry said. “We have the advantage on the inside and needed to take control of the game again. “
Butler scored his 16 points all during the second half. Redshirt sophomore guard Sa’Quan Davis also scored all of his points during the second half.
Davis scored nine points, include two three-point shots and three free throws. The two three-pointers took the momentum from the Mountain Cats as the clock continued to wind down. UPJ brought the score within four points (72-68) with 2:44 remaining when Davis answered with his first three and within five points (77-72) when he answered with his second with 1:17 remaining.
“It was a good performance from him (Davis) tonight,” Reynolds said. “We played him more minutes than usual. He was probably player of the game. He stood out with the threes and did a good job defensively.”
Lewis-Briggs led the Rock in scoring with 17 points and eight rebounds. Butler scored 16 points and six rebounds. Dixon had 14 points, Perry had 10 and Raleigh scored nine.
The Rock’s win over UPJ secured them a spot in the conference single-elimination tournament for the fourth year in a row. The top six teams in the division advance.
Slippery Rock is currently in fourth place, behind Mercyhurst (third), Gannon (second) and Indiana University of Pa. (first).
SRU travels to Mercyhurst (12-9, 8-3 PSAC-West) Wednesday with hopes of improving their conference standings.
“We expect Mercyhurst to come out ready to play,” Perry said. “We beat them the first time we played them and expect to see them bring us their ‘A-game’.”
Mercyhurst heads into Wednesday night’s game off of a 54-56 loss to Gannon.
The Rock takes on the Lakers at 7:30 p.m. in the Mercyhurst Athletic Center.