When a 62-51 lead turned into a 78-72 deficit in the final seven minutes of the Slippery Rock women’s basketball team’s (9-11) first matchup with no. 10 California University (Pa.) (18-2) this season, the Green and White knew a prime opportunity for a season-altering victory slipped through their fingers.
However, the away loss came with the promise of a rematch at home and The Rock was desperate to prove how difficult beating the same team twice in a season can be.
Junior guard Brooke Hinderliter and redshirt junior guard Madison Johnson combined for 46 points, 18 rebounds and a perfect 22 for 22 from the free throw line to lead the Green and White to an upset 72-61 victory over the Vulcans.
“It didn’t surprise me in any way, shape or form because we have the talent to beat anybody in the conference,” said Slippery Rock coach Bobby McGraw. “That’s the number 10 team in the nation and we held them to 61 points.”
On a night when efficient field goal shooting was at a premium for both squads—The Rock shot 41 percent from the field and eight percent from three-point range—free throws proved to be the deciding factor in the outcome of the game.
“You look at the box score and say we shot 32 and they shot 19. We made our free throws. 27 of 32, that’s 84 percent and you’re going to win a lot of basketball games that way and that’s from attacking the rim,” said McGraw.
Hinderliter, who led both teams in scoring with 27 points, went a perfect six for six from the free throw line in the final two minutes of the game. The talented junior finished 13 for 13 in the game.
“They were super important for us because if they had fouled us, they could have gotten some quick buckets and caught back up with us,” Hinderliter said.
With Hinderliter’s unquestioned role as the number one option in the offense, her clutch scoring has become expected. Johnson’s six for six showing from the free throw line in the final two minutes proved just as crucial. While Johnson came off the bench for The Rock, McGraw emphasized how Johnson’s skill level is on par with anyone in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
“She’s put together four back-to-back to back-to-back unbelievable performances,” McGraw said. “What she did today against the number team 10 in the country, I’m speechless. Not surprised though because she’s that good.”
However, McGraw stressed his own failings to effectively prepare his team for each game on the schedule this season. While the marquee win over a conference rival brightened the season outlook, McGraw admitted the consistency must be present with each game remaining on the schedule.
“We’ve had some games this season where everyone in the locker room will tell you the same thing: we’ve been inconsistent to this point in time where we have not played with that type of effort every single night. As the head coach, that’s on me. At the end of the day, it’s my job to make sure we’re prepared for every game.”
With perhaps the biggest win for Rock basketball in recent seasons now in the rear-view mirror, another gargantuan test comes in the form of an away match with no. 5 Indiana University (Pa.) Wednesday afternoon. McGraw hoped the win over Cal-U—the first against the Vulcans since the 2001-2002 season—would build some momentum for the squad to build on.
Now 7-7 in the PSAC standings, The Rock sits in a three-way tie for fourth in the PSAC-West. Seven conference games remain on the schedule along with a non-conference tilt with Salem University. Edinboro University currently sit at 9-4 in the PSAC-West and serve as the team to chase over the remaining eight games.
A win over the Crimson Hawks would mark two top-10 wins in less than a week and show the rest of the PSAC that SRU can “beat anyone that they want to” as Hinderliter declared.
Tip-off against the Crimson Hawks is set for 5:30 p.m. at the Kovalchick Convention & Athletic Complex on February 6.
Never short on confidence, McGraw stands by his declaration in August that The Rock have enough talent to win the league. The result against the Crimson Hawks will go a long way in making or breaking that declaration.