Teams will lose games throughout the season; it’s inevitable. Some games will be close and others will not. How well a team responds to those losses can sometimes determine how a team’s season will go.
Slippery Rock (3-3, 1-1 PSAC) was forced to respond to some adversity this weekend on the basketball court.
The Slippery Rock men’s basketball team opened conference play Saturday at the Morrow Field House with a 25 point loss to Shippensburg in a game that was never really in question.
SRU responded Sunday with a grinding five-point victory over Lock Haven, riding a last-minute surge to finish the weekend at .500.
Slippery Rock head coach Ian Grady noted the improvement his team made against Lock Haven after struggling against Shippensburg. However, he said the team has a lot of growing to do continuing into Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference play.
“It’s not an easy schedule when you play back to back and a lot of it is who wants it more the second day,” Grady said. “I thought we did a good job fighting today, better than we did yesterday, but we still have a ton of improvements to make.”
Slippery Rock traded baskets with Shippensburg (5-1, 1-0 PSAC) in the early moments of the game, and SRU took a 10-9 lead off a jump shot from senior guard Jared Armstrong roughly five minutes into the game.
Over the next minute and a half, Shippensburg built a lead that SRU was unable to overcome over the course of the game.
An injury to freshman forward Revelinio Tholel, who had scored the first eight points for Slippery Rock in just seven minutes of game time, helped Shippensburg jump out to a 46-29 halftime lead.
Shippensburg shot 47% from the field and 60% from three-point range in the first half and Slippery Rock, which shot 42% from beyond the arc, only connected on 33% of its shots.
In a trend that continued Sunday against Lock Haven, Grady experimented with his lineups against Shippensburg, and he was content that his mixture of lineups was able to pick up a win against the Bald Eagles.
“We have some depth on this team, and we’re just trying to find a combination that works and does what we need it to do,” Grady said.
Shippensburg was able to expand its lead in the second half, and the lead ballooned to 29 points at times. Despite shooting 48% in the second half, Slippery Rock was unable to cut into the Raiders’ lead.
Grady was able to send out new lineups throughout the second half of Game 1 in relatively low consequence basketball.
Sophomore forward Amante Britt led the way for Slippery Rock, finishing with a team-high 12 points along with three assists.
Eight of his 12 points came in the second half as he shot 4-of-5 from the field and pulled in two rebounds. Grady said he’s been happy to watch the development of Britt into a pretty good starting point guard.
Senior Will Robinson, Jr., Armstrong and freshman forward Lashon Lindsey rounded out Slippery Rock’s top scorers with 11, nine and seven points, respectively.
Lindsey’s seven points were a career-high in his short time wearing a Green and White jersey.
Slippery Rock was back on the court less than 24 hours later and a five-point surge from Robinson in the final minute of the game spurred SRU to its first conference win of the season.
Despite every player who saw the court for Slippery Rock scoring in the first, SRU stared down a one-point deficit heading into halftime.
Sophomore guard Jason Fowlkes led the way with nine points, on 2-of-4 shooting, and the 6-3 guard flashed some deep range on a pair of three-pointers.
Grady attributed the strong start for Fowlkes this season to how hard he’s worked through the offseason.
“It’s a testament to him working so hard to improve, so, I’m proud of him,” Grady said. “He makes a nice impact with how hard he plays. You know when he goes in, he’ll be playing really hard.”
Despite shooting just 36% from the field and a paltry 25% from beyond the arc in the second half, Slippery Rock and Lock Haven fought throughout the second half to a 70-70 game with just under a minute left.
That’s where Robinson took over… if you don’t count his entire second half as a takeover.
The senior forward scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the second half alone, but he converted a three-point play with an and-one layup and a pair of free throws iced the game with seven seconds left.
Robinson’s 24 point, 11 rebound game pushed his season averages to 20.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, good for fourth and second-best in the PSAC, respectively.
Armstrong and Fowlkes rounded out Slippery Rock’s top scorers with 16 and 12 points, respectively. Armstrong’s average of 17.0 points per game this season ranks second on SRU and 16th in the conference.
Without All-American forward Micah Till, Grady is still looking for ways to pick up wins until his star forward can return on Dec. 15. He said Till will make an immediate impact on the rotation, but there are still games to win between now and his return.
“We’re just going one day at a time right now,” Grady said. “Right now we have a few games left until he gets back. We’ve got to worry about those games first.”
While a trio of seniors in Robinson, Armstrong and guard Donovan Walker lead the way in scoring so far this season, the top eight is rounded out by three sophomores and two freshmen.
Britt, Fowlkes and sophomore forward Will Bounds have resumed from last season with key roles off the bench while Tholel started both games over the weekend and Lindsey scored a season-high seven points against Shippensburg.
The balance in scoring is something that Grady said the team is striving for.
“[The distribution of scoring] is kind of what we want,” Grady said. “To get more continuity with our classes and how it’s spread out, so we’re happy with last year’s class and this year’s, too.”
With a 3-3 start to the season and last season’s best player still on the bench, Grady said the team has lots of room to grow and plenty of areas to improve.
“There’s a lot of improvements to make still,” Grady said. “We’re not rebounding at the rate that we have [in the past], turnovers have been an issue at times and just making a commitment to defense. If we can give a consistent effort, that’ll take care of a lot of it.”
With the week of Thanksgiving off, Slippery Rock will return to action on Sunday with a non-conference game in Washington, D.C. against the University of the District of Columbia.
Tipoff is slated for 1 p.m.