The Shippensburg University men’s basketball team, (16–0, 12–0 PSAC), knows that it has a target on its back going into every game, as its record currently shows no blemishes.
East Stroudsburg University (12–5, 10–2 PSAC) did everything in its power to change that, but it was to no avail, as the Raiders came out unscathed with an 86–82 overtime victory Wednesday night.
The matchup, between the top teams in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) East Division, was dramatic, with both teams being tested to their limits.
In the game’s first 10 minutes, the Raiders did a solid job knocking down shots and fighting through the stellar East Stroudsburg full-court press. SU led 23–17 with 9:35 left in the opening half, before the pressure started to affect it.
East Stroudsburg pushed hard, forcing SU into seven turnovers. 12 first-half points by Rasheed Moore gave the Warriors a 37–36 lead at the half. It was just the fourth time the Raiders trailed at halftime all season.
Early in the second half, SU struggled to find a bucket. The Raiders shot 10-of-29 in the second half, but found success at the free-throw line, keeping the game closely contested into its final minutes.
“It’s a tremendous win for us because a lot of things did not go well for us tonight. We were on our heels; we couldn’t make a shot and defensively — they were having their way with us a little bit,” SU head coach Chris Fite said.
“When they would miss, they pulled in offensive boards,” Fite continued. “It seemed like they were playing with greater energy than us. We needed to regroup at halftime and change that. But to their credit, they hung in there and made some big plays down the stretch.”
With 12:05 left in the second half, the Raiders started mounting their comeback. The Raiders fought within striking distance after a 3-pointer by Justin McCarthur with 11:42 left to cut the deficit to single-digits. Then, with 7:33 remaining McCarthur hit another 3-pointer to push the Warriors’ lead to just four.
The teams exchanged baskets down the stretch and the Warriors held a five-point lead with four minutes to play.
With 27 seconds remaining, SU trailed by three. Then, McCarthur stepped up once more. McCarthur pulled up from well beyond the top of the 3-point arc and buried a 3-pointer to tie the game, and the Heiges Field House crowd erupted.
“I told them before we went back out, that if I get an open look, I got this,” McCarthur said. “I was open so I just knocked it down. Once I see the ball go through a few times — I don’t know what it is, but I just felt like it was going to go in every time.”
“It was a tremendous crowd and I’m glad we could pull it out,” Fite said. “That’s the largest regular season crowd I’m thinking we’ve had in forever. And considering the students aren’t here yet, it’s really exciting that the community is getting behind us and people are getting excited about what we’re doing.”
East Stroudsburg’s Moore missed a 3-pointer on the following possession to send the game to overtime.
Upon tying the game, the Raiders would not be denied. SU shot a perfect 3-of-3 from the field, and 9-of-12 from the free-throw line to come away with the win. McCarthur scored seven of the Raiders 17 points in the overtime period.
The game was the biggest test for the Raiders all season, as they trailed the entire second-half and did not take the lead again until the overtime period. The Raiders, prior to Wednesday’s thriller, had just one game all season decided by five or fewer points.
In the game, McCarthur finished with a team-high 24 points for the Raiders, while Dustin Sleva finished the game with 18 points and 15 rebounds, before fouling out in overtime.
Moore led the way for the Warriors with 25 points, while Chris Bing finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds for East Stroudsburg.
The win gave SU a two-game lead over the Warriors in the PSAC East standings, and improved SU’s winning streak to 16 games.
“It is huge,” Fite said. “I’m trying not to look at it that way, but I’m just happy we got another win. We beat a really, really good team, and now we have to focus on how were going to beat Cheyney.”
SU will travel to Cheyney University Jan. 21. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.