The Slippery Rock University men’s basketball team reached another milestone in their impressive season Wednesday night as they secured a first-round bye in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament with an 81-79 victory over Edinboro University Wednesday night at the Morrow Field House.
The victory extends The Rock’s winning streak to four games while improving their record to 19-7 overall and 16-3 in PSAC showdowns. On the other hand, Edinboro’s hopes of securing the final spot in the PSAC tournament took a serious hit as the loss drops the Fighting Scots to an overall record of 8-15 and 5-13 in conference play.
From the beginning of the game, it was evident that Edinboro was not intimidated by The Rock or the obvious success the team has been enjoying at home, as both teams traded blows for much of the first half. The Fighting Scots took full advantage of mental lapses of the Green and White’s defense, utilizing crisp ball movement to sink seven shots from beyond the arc in the first half. Paired with an aggressive defense, Edinboro was able to stymie Slippery Rock’s potent offensive attack, only allowing The Rock to shoot at an underwhelming 39.47 percent rate (15-38). Heading into halftime, the two PSAC rivals were locked in a battle in which a win for each team was vital with Edinboro holding a 37-36 edge.
Edinboro maintained a lead over The Rock for nearly 90 percent of the second half and expanded their lead to 71-60 with only 6:05 left to play. From there, The Rock revamped their offensive attack by capitalizing on poor rebounding and a slew of sloppy shots from the Fighting Scots. “We started to get a couple drives to the basket which started to open up some things and the intensity of all five players began to pick up defensively,” Grady said. “The bench started to get more involved and there was a multitude of things that happened within a short period of time that got us ignited.”
It only took the Green and White 2:33 to erase Edinboro’s nine-point lead, as Nolan Gerald converted on a go-ahead layup to cap a 10-0 run, putting Slippery Rock up 71-70 with only 3:32 left to play. Once Slippery Rock captured the lead, they never looked back as they were able to edge Edinboro by a final score of 81-79. The win kept The Rock perfect at home against PSAC opponents, a flawless 10-0 record to be exact.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock at the Morrow Field House, the home crowd erupted in celebration along with the athletes on the court. Following the landmark victory, Coach Grady was appreciative of his team’s no-quit mentality and how he feels that trait defines their success.
“This team has a lot of resilience, they are able to persevere through difficult circumstances and come through in the clutch,” Grady said. “Those are not easy circumstances to be in, but they continue to have confidence in each other and make plays when it matters most.”
Anytime a postseason berth or bye is clinched, it is surely a feel-good moment. However, having the opportunity to do so in front of a supportive home crowd makes it that much sweeter. Coach Grady praised the Green and White faithful as he described how it felt to capture such a big win at home.
“It means a lot to me, it’s always good to get a win like that in front of the home crowd,” Grady said. “We had a nice crowd tonight, and we welcome the support and hope that the stands continue to be filled.”
Furthermore, the victory over Edinboro keeps The Rock in position to potentially finish first place in the PSAC West division. With just a few games left to be played, Slippery Rock is only a half-game behind No. 2 IUP and owns the tiebreaker over the Crimson Hawks if the two teams were to finish with the same conference record, per Athletic Communication.
Even with a first-round bye locked up, each remaining game (UPJ, Gannon) on The Rock’s schedule still has playoff implications as a loss to either team would make it virtually impossible to topple IUP for the PSAC West throne.
Recognizing what is on the line, Coach Grady calmly stated, “Each game is of equal importance. We’ve been stressing that and the players on the team know what is at stake. Each game we’re treating it like a conference tournament or NCAA tournament.”
The Rock will travel to Pitt-Johnstown this coming Saturday to take on the Mountain Cats, who have also been exceptional at home this season, posting a 10-1 record thus far. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m.