On Saturday, the Slippery Rock men’s hoops team opened the second round of PSAC Western Division play, traveling to the Convocation Center to square off against the native Vulcans of California University (Pa.). The game boasted the division’s two highest-scoring offenses, with Slippery Rock totaling 84.3 points per game and California averaging almost 82.7. In the team’s first run-in, earlier in January, The Rock claimed the victory at home by an 85-74 tally.
The Vulcans entered the contest 9-11 (5-9 in-conference) and one-and-a-half games behind Mercyhurst for the West’s final playoff opening. Though looking to remain close to the Lakers in the division standings, Cal U dropped to 14th out of its last 15 games with The Rock, conceding an 86-65 loss.
Helped in large part by the scoring of 13 unanswered points late in the first half, The Rock reached the intermission with a 46-27 lead. SRU took total control in the latter half, holding a 30-point upper hand with 5:26 remaining. Though subbed out for most of the second half, sophomore forward Micah Till netted 27 points. It was the only time this season that Till eclipsed the 20-point mark and did not put up a double-double, coming one rebound short of his 15th of the year. Junior forward Brandon Simmons and senior forward Richard Bivens contributed 14 points and 12 points, respectively.
The team’s defense put on a stout performance, holding the Vulcans to a 36.8 shooting percentage, even lower than the league-best 40.3% that The Rock had allowed to that point in the schedule. The Vulcan’s second-worst scoring defense and unimpressive shooting from beyond the arc (going 3-of-19 in the contest) also helped SRU.
The victory was The Rock’s third straight and fifth out of its last six games. It improved SRU’s overall record to 17-4 (11-4). Up next comes an important home White Out with arch-rival IUP. The Crimson Hawks, who will swoop into Morrow Field having suffered only one loss since beating SRU on January 8th, is the only team that The Rock trails in the PSAC West standings. Already in the season’s home stretch, the showdown will be a crucial opportunity to narrow the two-game margin IUP holds over the green-and-white.