Entering Saturday’s conference tilt with Pitt-Johnstown, three of the last four Slippery Rock men’s basketball games had been decided by four points or less. One win and two losses.
With a 72-69 loss to Pitt-Johnstown at the Morrow Field House, that’s one win and three losses now.
After trailing to Millersville by 20 points in its last outing and making a miraculous buzzer-beating comeback, Slippery Rock found itself in a similar position against the Mountain Cats.
Despite coming all the way back, even leading at the midway point of the second half, the game was decided in the final seconds.
Trailing by a point with 6.7 seconds left in the contest, senior guard Donovan Walker rose high for a crucial defensive rebound on a missed UPJ layup. SRU called a timeout and was afforded an opportunity to win the game with a key inbound play.
The inbound from junior guard Deontae Robertson didn’t find its mark as Pitt-Johnstown’s Josh Wise stole the pass and forced Robertson to foul.
A layup at the buzzer from UPJ made it a three-point lead to ice the victory.
Behind the efforts of 64% shooting the second half and 36 combined points from senior forwards Will Robinson, Jr. and Micah Till and sophomore guard Amante Britt, Slippery Rock battled back into the game. But the slow start was too much to overcome.
Not to be lost in the sorrow of a loss, Till became the first player in Slippery Rock history to score 1,000 points, record 500 rebounds, dish out 100 assists, block 100 shots and record 100 steals.
A season-high 24 turnovers, including a back-breaking turnover on the final inbound, doomed Slippery Rock as effectively as the slow start.
SRU: For the fourth straight game, Robinson reached 20 points, scoring 24 against Pitt-Johnstown. Averaging 19.6 and 8.8 rebounds, he ranks inside the top five in both scoring and rebounding in the conference.
Till recorded 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocks in another all-around performance.
Robinson and Till did combine for 13 turnovers, however, compared to the rest of the team’s 11.
UPJ: Wise led Pitt-Johnstown with 21 points, which included three of UPJ’s five 3-pointers.
Marcin Wiszormirksi and Fred Mulbah rounded out UPJ’s top scorers with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
SRU: With the loss, Slippery Rock drops to 8-9 on the season and 4-7 in the conference.
With six games decided by three points or less this season, the eighth by five or less and the 10th by 10 points or less, Slippery Rock has become accustomed to playing close games. Which could have positive ramifications come postseason play if SRU can reach the playoffs.
However, Slippery Rock has been on the losing end of such games more as often as not. Especially over the past hand few games.
Holding the sixth seed in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division, two games up on Edinboro for the final spot, Slippery Rock enters the bulk of PSAC-West competition in good shape.
UPJ: Pitt-Johnstown improves to 15-3 on the season and 9-2 in the conference with the win.
A mainstay in the PSAC-West top six over the past handful of years, UPJ has jumped out to being the only realistic threat to Indiana (Pa.)’s reign as the defending PSAC-West champion so far this season.
With the win over Slippery Rock, UPJ coach Bob Rukavina recorded his 500th career win.
Slippery Rock continues its road trip with a divisional contest with Mercyhurst Wednesday in Erie, Pa. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.