Slippery Rock fans packed into the Morrow Field House Wednesday night dressed in white in hopes of cheering on their men’s basketball team to victory over PSAC-rival Indiana University of Pa.
The crowd’s energy, cheers and signs were shaken off by IUP as the Crimson Hawks took the victory 69-55.
The loss drops SRU to 19-9 (10-6 PSAC-West) and improves IUP to 23-3 (13-3 PSAC-West). Both teams are advancing to the PSAC playoffs. IUP is seeded second and will receive a first-round bye.
The 14-point margin is the highest of the Rock’s nine losses during the regular season.
Assistant head coach Ian Grady led SRU in their final regular season match.
Grady stepped in for head coach Kevin Reynolds who wasn’t in attendance due to a University-imposed one-game suspension for a personnel matter, according to Rockathletics.com. The site’s statement was visible for a short time late Wednesday morning but was later removed.
A message was left with Rock Athletic Director Paul Leuken requesting a comment on the situation but it remained unanswered.
“It wasn’t how I wanted to do it (debut as head coach),” Grady said. “I was expecting to come out with a win.”
Slippery Rock took the lead in the first few minutes of the game off a three-point shot from senior guard Josh Martin.
The Rock extended their lead to three points (5-2) and kept their fans loud off a dunk from sophomore center Cornelius Brown.
IUP took the lead with 16:29 remaining in the first half off a layup from Mathis Keita and held onto it the rest of the game.
The Green and White closed the gap several times but the Crimson Hawks pulled away each time.
Martin finished the game as the Green and White’s leading scorer with 18 points. Senior center Maurice Lewis-Briggs scored 12 points and redshirt senior forward Tabari Perry scored 10. Lewis-Briggs shot for 29 points in the first rivalry game of the season at the Kovalchick Complex Jan. 25
“They were collapsing on him (Lewis-Briggs),” Grady said. “They made adjustments on him when we played there (Kovalchick Complex) too. The baskets just didn’t happen for us tonight.”
The Crimson Hawks held Slippery Rock to 37.3 percent from the field, out-rebounded them 38-30 and converted 15 points off SRU’s 10 turnovers.
“They’re a well-disciplined defensive team (IUP),” Grady said. “We didn’t convert like we needed too. They did a great job defensively and should get all the credit for that.”
When the two met earlier in the season, IUP narrowly defeated the Rock 66-64. The Crimson Hawks now hold a 100-74 all-time record against Slippery Rock.
“We had a lot of communication problems,” Grady said. “There were a lot of defensive breakdowns tonight and we gave up too many easy points.”
Rock seniors Lewis-Briggs, Perry, Martin, Sa’Quan Davis and Daivon Jackson were recognized prior to tip-off for Senior Night.
With the regular season not ending how the team had hoped, Slippery Rock will look to brush off the loss and refocus on the PSAC playoffs.
“We have to move on,” Grady said. “We have to regroup and we can’t let the loss hinder us. We’re in a do-or-die situation.”
SRU is the fourth seed in the PSAC-West and will host Seton Hill University (fifth seed) in the first round of playoffs this Saturday at 7 p.m.
Slippery Rock has defeated the Griffins twice already this season, 72-71 on Jan. 22 and 73-69 on Feb. 22.
The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to the quarterfinals round and face Gannon University (first seed) at the Hammermill Center Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.