The Slippery Rock University men’s basketball team (19-9/16-5) will have a lot to prove on Wednesday as they will host Mercyhurst University (21-6/15-6) in the quarterfinals of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Tournament.
The Rock went undefeated against the Lakers during the regular season, winning 92-91 on Jan. 5 and 83-74 on Feb. 13, while securing the no. 2 seed in the tournament and were awarded a first-round bye. Mercyhurst battled Seton Hill University on Monday, with the Griffins keeping up with the Lakers for much of the first half. Going into halftime, Seton Hill trailed by one point before the Lakers put up 52 points in the second half of play, setting up a Wednesday night showdown with The Rock.
Rock head coach Ian Grady said he expected Mercyhurst to defeat Seton Hill, but that his team was not preparing more for one opponent over the other.
“We had a pretty good idea who we were going to be playing,” Grady said. “[Mercyhurst] has been on fire recently and they deserve every bit of the credit of getting where they are now. It’s going to be a hard fought game on both sides.”
Perhaps the biggest loss for The Rock this season, has been the injury sustained by Preseason All-American Micah Till. Till, a redshirt junior, still remains the team leader in points (462), despite being injured on Feb. 6. Although Till’s injury has been tough for Grady and his team, The Rock has proven to be more than capable of winning without him. Junior Jared Armstrong is creeping up on Till’s point total with 449 on the season, while shooting 41 percent (72 for 173) from the three-point line. Junior John Warren II has continually put up strong numbers during his first and only season with The Rock. On the season, he has 326 points, shooting 78 percent from the free-throw line, and is one rebound away from 100 on the season.
Warren said he is confident that his team will get past the Lakers.
“We played them twice this season: one game we beat them by one point in double OT and the other we beat them by nine [points],” Warren said. “We learned a lot from how we beat them in those games. We just have to continually make sure our defense keeps up with [Mercyhurst’s] offense.”
Grady agreed with Warren that The Rock’s defensive performance will determine Wednesday’s outcome.
“We have proven that we can put up the points,” Grady said. “It all comes down to defense, if we can’t stop them from scoring, it’s going to be a long night.”
The Rock’s defense has given up 2,059 points (73.5 per game) this season (eighth in the PSAC) while Mercyhurst leads the conference in points allowed, giving up just 1,627 points (60.3 per game) the entire season.
Perhaps The Rock’s biggest ally on Wednesday will be the home court advantage. On the season, the Green and White has won 12 games at home while losing just two, the first being against the University of the District of Columbia on Nov. 17 and the other occurring on Saturday against Gannon University. Grady said he is confident that his team can bring that record up to 13-2.
“We’re obviously more comfortable at home,” Grady said. “We’re lucky to have played well during the season to be able to play at home during the playoffs.”
A win will send The Rock to the semifinals on Saturday. That matchup will be against the winner of the Wednesday night matchup between Kutztown University (16-13/9-11) and East Stroudsburg University (20-6/17-3). Grady said his team is not looking at those potential matchups yet.
“Our only concern is beating Mercyhurst on Wednesday,” Grady explained. “We have to win first to even be worried about playing Saturday.”
Tipoff for Wednesday’s showdown with the Lakers is set for 7 p.m. at the Morrow Field House.