Despite a slow first half, the 2016-17 Shippensburg University men’s basketball team finished strong, coming out on top of its first game decided by less than five points with a 79–75 win over Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) rival Bloomsburg University.
The Raiders were 13-of-36 (36.1 percent) in the first half from the floor, before shooting 19-of-31 (61.3 percent) in the second half to knock off the Huskies.
The game, hard fought by both teams, was SU’s toughest challenge thus far.
“I told our guys it’s kind of new territory for us,” SU head coach Chris Fite said. “We had beaten everyone handily up until this point and we felt some game pressure. I was proud of how we dealt with it. We made some plays down the stretch when we needed to and guys stepped up. It was a good team win.”
The Raiders got after Bloomsburg’s best scorer in Christian Mortellite, holding him to just 13 points in the game.
“He’s the key to what they do. He’s their best player by far,” Fite said. “He is one of the best shooters in the league and that was our focus in our preparation to try and take him out of the game and I think we did a good job of it.”
The Raiders took a 31–29 halftime lead but the Huskies refused to go away, matching the Raiders the whole way down the stretch. With 12:01 left in the second half, SU’s Dustin Sleva got to the rim and put in a layup off the glass and was fouled by Kyle-Michael Rose, which led to a 3-point play, giving SU a 10-point lead – its largest of the half.
The Huskies came surging back, after a 3-pointer by Alex Prislupsky and a jumper by Carnell McGirt to pull within five. The teams exchanged baskets before SU’s Justin McCarthur made a layup with 8:11 left to play, pushing SU’s lead to eight.
Bloomsburg cut the lead to just three with 17 seconds remaining on a free-throw by Yahmir Greenlee, but SU’s Manny Span iced the game at the free-throw line, knocking down a pair of shots with a second remaining to give SU the four-point win.
For SU, Span scored eight points, but his baskets seemed to come when the Raiders needed them the most.
“He made some big buckets for us and two big free-throws at the end,” Fite said. “He’s been around for a little while and were glad he’s getting healthy and getting in the mix.”
Sleva once again led the way for the Raiders, scoring 19 points, while picking up 15 rebounds and five assists. McCarthur was also huge for SU, scoring 17 points, while Abe Massaley scored 15.
SU, now 12–0, 8–0 PSAC, have started out PSAC East Division play with three-straight victories, pushing the Raiders streak to 12 so far this season. Fite knows that the team can keep rolling as long as the team stays focused.
“We just have to stay focused and take things one game at a time,” Fite said. “That’s been our mantra since day one and we have been able to accumulate a lot of wins and we just can’t lose perspective. It’s great that we are where we are at and that we are ranked, and the guys know that. They understand it and they are mature enough to understand that we have to be focusing on our next opponent and not lose our heads.”
The Raiders will hit the road next for a matchup with PSAC East rival Mansfield University on Jan. 9. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Decker Gymnasium.