The Slippery Rock men’s basketball team participated in a special event on November fourth; Saturday’s Shoot Down Cancer Exhibition Game presented by UPMC Hillman Cancer Center pitted the Rock against the University of Pittsburgh. SRU battled the Panthers tough throughout the entire game, falling 71-59.
“We can only get better by playing this type of competition,” Slippery Rock head coach Kevin Reynolds said.
No matter the result of the game’s score, it was always going to be a positive one. The UPMC Hillman Cancer Center donated money to pediatric cancer research for every made free throw and three pointer, while Pittsburgh head coach Kevin Stallings donated $1 for ever person in attendance, which was announced at 2278. Pitt Athletics additionally donated $5 for every ticket bought.
After participating in two closed-door scrimmages, this was Slippery Rock’s first real competition as a team, and of course, it was against an ACC opponent in Pittsburgh.
“Playing an ACC team, I was just really excited,” sophomore forward Micah Till said. “We need to build off of this game, I’m excited for the season.”
This Green and White team returns only four players from last year and they are all seniors. Guards Merdic Green and team captain Khyree Wooten, forward Tony Gates and center Christal Malalu. This matched up with the Pitt team who only returned three players from last year’s 16-17 team.
With only seven players between two squads returning, nobody quite knew what to expect from this exhibition game.
Slippery Rock set the tone early by senior forward Richard Bivens winning the tip-off to start the game and subsequently making the first shot of the game to put the Rock up early. Bivens scored six points in the game, all in the first half, and led the Rock in rebounds with eight.
Rebounding was a theme for the entire day, as the Rock out-rebounded their Division I opponent 42-41, and also held the advantage in offensive rebounds, 15-10. Slippery Rock has a reputation for their rebounding prowess, leading all NCAA divisions in rebounding margin two years ago, out-rebounding their opponents by more than 13 per game.
“That’s kind of our calling card is to outwork, out-tough and out-athletisize on the boards,” Reynolds said. “That’s what we do, we are happy we out-rebounded them, but we expect to do that.”
“What Slippery Rock did on the boards was a great lesson for us,” Pittsburgh head coach Kevin Stallings said.
Another storyline during the first half was Green for SRU, he led all players at the half with seven rebounds, and led SRU in points with nine. Unfortunately, Green couldn’t keep up the success and finished with the same number of rebounds and 13 points, still second on the team.
Early on, it looked like a major upset was in the works, as Pitt went down 18-11 with 9:26 remaining in the first half, which would be the Rock’s biggest lead of the day.
A big part of that was the defensive play of Malalu. Malalu was charged with the task of guarding Pitt’s returning points and rebounds leader Ryan Luther. Luther committed three fouls in the first half and recorded zero rebounds or points.
“Ryan is our best player, but he was never able to get in a flow,” Stallings said. “I think their big kids are pretty good, [Malalu] I would think is a force in their league.”
From the 9:26 mark, Pitt went on a 22-10 run to close out the first half, taking a 33-28 lead at the break. Pitt was led by their transfer from Northwest Florida State, Jared Wilson-Frame, who went 3-5 from three and recorded 15 points in the first half.
No matter how different the makeup of this Green and White team this year, they find themselves with the same struggle that plagued them last year– free throw shooting.
Slippery Rock shot .672 from the line last year, third-worst in the conference and 246th in the country. SRU shot 10-20 from the free throw line on Saturday, while Pitt sunk 22 of their 28.
“We were good on 2s, we weren’t good on 1s and 3s,” Reynolds said. “We are a better shooting team than 10 of 20 at the foul line, that’s something we can correct.”
As the second half went on, things started to look bleak for the Rock. Pitt ran out to a 50-35 lead with 13:38 remaining in the half.
However, Slippery Rock would not go away, led particularly by Till, who only recorded two points in the first half.
“[I improved by] just being smarter, not playing as aggressive, using my size to my advantage,” Till said. “Just playing within myself and not being selfish is what I tried to do”
Till finished with 15 points, 12 of which came in a 9-minute span, including two three-pointers, one of which pulled the Rock to within four points with 3:45 left, trailing only 63-59
“We knew we had good talent,” Reynolds said. “But we knew who the enemy was, it was in the locker room, it was ourselves. It’s going to take some time to get used to playing with each other.”
Unfortunately, those would be the last points for Slippery Rock on the day, as they eventually fell to the Panthers, 71-59.
“We don’t have any excuses, they beat us fair and square,” Reynolds said.
Other Rock notables included Till’s teammate at Harford College last year, junior guard Aaron Mcdonald. McDonald finished with eight points and two assists. The Rock played 10 different players, nine of which played between 19 and 30 minutes.
“It seems like they have some depth, because [Reynolds] kept running guys on and off the court,” Stallings said.
Slippery Rock now has off until Nov. 11, when they start the PSAC/MEC crossover, facing Glenville State on Saturday and West Virginia Wesleyan on Sunday, both in Glenville, WV.