Last season, the Raiders found themselves going farther than most people expected them to go in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC). Two years removed from a lackluster 3-23 season, the Shippensburg University men’s basketball team found itself in the PSAC Tournament Semifinals.
The Raiders made a valiant playoff run, downing rival Bloomsburg University and Kutztown University on last second heroics by Abe Massaley in both games. The Raiders’ Cinderella run came to an end in West Chester, where the Raiders fell to Mercyhurst University in the PSAC Tournament Semifinal game.
SU’s berth in the semifinals was its first in 10 years. The Raiders’ 20 wins last season is also tied for the second-most in school history.
“It was great to get into the tournament and it was great to get to host a playoff game and go on the road and get a win. There were so many valuable experiences in the success we had last year that we can only assume will help us this year,” SU coach Chris Fite said.
With a playoff run under its belt, SU looks to start this season right where it left off.
“I’m hoping that we have another successful season,” Fite said. “We have enough players returning from last year’s team and we believe we have the pieces in place where we can be successful this year. After having a taste of the final four last year, we feel like we’d love to get back there and maybe take it a step or two farther.”
The 2015-16 squad graduated six seniors, two of which were starters, Jay Hardy and Tony Ellis.
Among those returning for the Raiders are star forward Dustin Sleva, guard Massaley, forward Antonio Kellem and guard Justin McCarthur.
“Our bar is winning the PSAC Championship,” Sleva said. “Last year was fun getting to the semifinals, but this year our goal is not only to get there but to win.”
Sleva was a force for the Raiders last season, averaging 15.8 points and 11 rebounds per game. Sleva also shot 40 percent from three, while picking up 16 double-doubles last season, placing him eighth in the country in double-doubles.
Massaley is back for his senior season, in which he has set his sights on the Raiders being atop the PSAC. The team has made quite the turnaround since Massaley’s freshman year, in which the team won just three games.
“It shows that if you dedicate yourself and put hard work in and believe and have faith, anything is possible,” Massaley said.
Last season Massaley averaged 13.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Raiders.
Fite acknowledged how valuable the tandem is to the team’s success this season.
“It’s great as a coach to know that you’ve got that type of talent, that type of maturity, that type of leadership returning. It certainly helps me sleep a little easier at night,” Fite said. “Abe and Dustin are two of the better players in the league and Justin McCarthur, Antonio Kellem and Clay Conner. All these guys had great seasons for us last year so to have that type of returning upper class is great.”
For the Raiders, the 2016-17 season will tipoff at Heiges Field House in the annual Wolf’s Bus Lines Classic. The Raiders will begin their season Friday Nov. 11, when they host Penn State Wilkes-Barre. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.