After losing back to back Pennsylvania State Athletic Conferences games, the Slippery Rock University men’s basketball team (16-7) won a close game against Mercyhurst University (15-8) on Wednesday.
The Rock defeated Mercyhurst 56-51, despite missing two of their starters. Junior guard Kelvin Goodwin and junior center Cornelius Brown did not play due to a coach’s decision. The first half featured one of the lowest scoring and worst shooting percentages that the Rock have posted this season. At the end of the half, SRU led Mercyhurst 20-19. The Rock had a field goal percentage of 24.1 percent (7-29), while Mercyhurst shot 28.6 percent (8-28)
“We’re two of the better defensive teams in the league and the country, statistically speaking,” SRU head coach Kevin Reynolds said. “We’ve had a lot of grind-it-out games with them since I’ve been here. They’ve all been defensive games, and it was that script again.”
The second half was much like most of the Rock’s games this season, and they picked up the offense. Winning the quarter by a score of 36-32, the Rock improved their field goal percentage to 34.8 percent (8-23) and Mercyhurst improved to 35.7 percent (10-28).
“We were happy at halftime, and we felt good about where we were,” Reynolds said. “We knew shots would eventually fall, so we told the guys to keep being aggressive and get to the foul line.”
The game was close, with both teams playing tight defense and forcing tough shots. However, with 13 seconds left, SRU junior guard Malcolm Richardson came up with a huge block to force a Mercyhurst shot clock violation with 13 seconds left in the half.
“He made three very good defensive plays in a short period of time,” Reynolds said. “We’re real happy with what he was able to provide for us.”
Seconds later, senior guard Antonio Butler was fouled and put on the free throw line. He hit one of two free throws. With under 10 seconds left, Mercyhurst had the ball. Jean Onana pulled up for a three point shot, but missed wide right. Mercyhurst’s head coach, Gary Manchel thought that Onana was fouled.
He argued the call and picked up a technical foul, which Butler hit one of two free throws for. Manchel continued to argue the call, and was eventually ejected from the game. SRU senior guard Desma Nicholson went to the free throw line and hit two of two free throws, sealing the victory for the Rock.
Butler was the only Rock player that scored in double digits, and scored a game high 22 points (6-16). He also had two assists and seven rebounds.
“He got trimmer, stronger and fitter, and it’s a credit to him in the summertime,” Reynolds said. “In Division II, you have to be self-motivated, which he did last season and in the summer.”
In his first start for SRU, Richardson scored six points (3-6) and had three assists and five rebounds.
“Of course there are some plays I wish I would have made and some turnovers I want back, but I think I helped us win, so that’s all that matters,” Richardson said.
Richardson said he prioritizes his defense when he plays.
“It always feels good to get stops on defense, and that’s one thing I take pride in on the court: not letting my guy score,” Richardson said. “Any time I can get a big stop for us on defense, I’m excited and amped for it.”
Nicholson came off the bench and added nine points (1-5) and three rebounds. He was also fouled a few times, and capitalized on his free throw attempts.
“It was a good team effort, but we have a tough week next week against Edinboro and Seton Hill,” Reynolds said. “We need to go 2-0 next week to stay in it. Conference is important, but we want to be in the NCAA’s.”
The Rock’s next game is against Edinboro University on Feb. 11 in Edinboro, Pennsylvania at 7:30 p.m.