In the opening contest of Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) play, the Slippery Rock men’s basketball team fell to the defending PSAC champions and number eight team in the nation, the Shippensburg raiders, by a score of 90-87.
This game was also the home opener for SRU, who came into the contest undefeated after going 2-0 at the Jakobi’s Journey Basketball Classic last weekend. Slippery Rock started only one returning player from last year in senior guard Kyhree Wooten. Junior guard Bruce Spruell started at point guard, and was flanked as well by junior guard Aaron McDonald. Down low for The Rock were forwards sophomore Micah Till and senior Richard Bivens.
Senior guard Merdic Green came off the bench and was a huge part of The Rock offense in the first half. Green scored all of his 10 game points in the first half, and also went 2-3 from three-point range.
At the half, the Green and White led 47-43, also helped by Till dominating in the post again. Till finished the game with a team-highs in both points (22) and rebounds (8). Till was also one of only two SRU players who shot more than 50 percent from the free throw line, going 4-4.
“It feels nice to be back playing what I love,” Till said. “Getting acclimated to the offense is helping me score points.”
Bivens and senior forward Christal Malalu had their hands full on the defensive side throughout the night, tasked with guarding the reigning PSAC-East Player of the Year, senior forward Dustin Sleva. The challenge showed as both Malalu and Bivens recorded four personal fouls each, and Sleva led all teams with 32 points scored, helped by frequent appearances at the free-throw line, where he made 11 of his 12 free throws.
“We [tried] to play without fouling, not put him at the line,” SRU head coach Kevin Reynolds said. “We scored nine more baskets than them, free throws attempted is the biggest differential.”
87 points is the most for a Rock team since November 15th, 2016 where they scored 94 points versus Ohio Eastern. Slippery Rock was able to spread the ball around effectively, with five players in double-digit scoring, and three players with more than 15.
“I wouldn’t say they had weaknesses [on defense], they didn’t have strengths,” Till said. “They were really good at helping. I just had to find ways through the defense.”
Another huge factor for the Green and White’s high-scoring performance was the implementation of a fast-break offense that was not there for The Rock all last year. Spruell benefited from this the most, dropping 17 points after scoring 27 points in his last game against West Virginia Wesleyan. Wooten was another highly-efficient player, shooting 7-9 from the floor and scoring 16 points.
“We want to play faster,” Reynolds said. “We shot great from the floor, Shippensburg is just one of those teams that get the benefit of the doubt.”
Slippery Rock held an 84-83 point lead with two minutes left in the game. However, five of the raiders next seven points came from successful free throws to put them up 90-87 with four seconds left. Micah Till shot a three-pointer that barely rimmed out, and the final score held 90-87.
“We’re happy with the effort, but we’re not happy with the result,” Reynolds said. “There is no consolation in losing, we’re past that point.”
As per usual, Slippery Rock ended up out-rebounding their opponent, this time 32-28. Malalu finished with the second-most rebounds on the squad with seven. McDonald and junior forward Brandon Simmons rounded out notable Rock performances, scoring ten and eight points, respectively. Spruell led the team in assists with seven.
Slippery Rock will look to rebound tomorrow versus Kutztown. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.