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93.7 The Fan
Contrasting styles as IUP goes for Elite 8 birth Tuesday night
By Jeff Hathhorn,
PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – Expectations have been high for IUP all year. Coming off an appearance in the Final Four, the 32-1 Crimson Hawks spent weeks as the number one team in Division 2. Their veteran head coach is attempting to keep the mindset of one game at a time, not thinking about the huge opportunity in front of them.
Tuesday night is a Sweet 16 matchup at home against the second seed from the region, 30-3 West Liberty.
“I know they are a terrific team,” said IUP head coach Joe Lombardi. “I know there were a lot of people that the close of the year thought they were the best team in the region.”
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for them and their program and a big rivalry over the years. We hope we can get ready for the challenges they present. We have some mountains to climb if we are going to come out with a win on Tuesday.”
18 times this season West Liberty scored over 100 points, including 129 in a regulation win at Fairmont State. The Hilltoppers averaged 101.2 points a game, only one team averaged more. They won their conference tournament by 75 points in three games. Latrobe native Bryce Butler is 13 th in Division 2 in scoring at 22.3 points per game. The All-American has 1,822 career points, making 307 threes.
IUP has Shawndale Jones, the North Hills native is back from an ACL tear early last year to average 20 points a game. Where the matchup really sits is with IUP’s defense, tops in the nation in field goal percentage defense (38%), allowed only 59 points per game and one of the best three-point shooting defenses in Division 2.
Four times the teams have met in regional finals, West Liberty won three of them with IUP winning the last meeting in 2015.
“We just want to remind each other that we want to live in the moment,” said IUP guard Dave Morris. “Being a senior, we tell ourselves to live in the moment. We work hard in practice that translates onto the court because we want to keep playing.”