The third chapter in a bitter rivalry came to an end, with the Shippensburg University men’s basketball team (18–2, 14–2 PSAC) falling at Heiges Field House to Kutztown University (17–2, 13–2 PSAC), 81–75.
The loss marked SU’s second on the season, and came at the hands of the No. 10 Golden Bears. The Raiders fell behind by as much as 17 points, but a strong second-half push brought SU within four points.
“I’m proud that the guys kept competing and they didn’t give up,” SU head coach Chris Fite said.
“That was one thing to take away from tonight. In saying that, it’s disappointing. It was a tremendous opportunity we had and it didn’t feel like we had the energy that was necessary in a game like that,” Fite continued.
The Raiders had no answer for Kutztown’s Ethan Ridgeway, who scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds and eight assists.
Kutztown’s Dan Cuevas had 18 points and eight rebounds.
Dustin Sleva tied his career-high with 28 points in the game. He also pulled in seven rebounds.
Abe Massaley scored 17 points and added four assists, while Clay Conner added a season-high 10 points off the bench.
The Raiders have now lost back-to-back games after starting the year with 18 consecutive wins. The Raiders defense has been an issue, as opponents have shot more than 50 percent from the field in back-to-back games.
“We’ve got to defend better,” Fite said. “The last two games, the teams have shot better than 50 percent, and you’re not going to beat many teams in this league if you can’t stop them. That is something that we’ve hung our hat on all year long — was our ability to defend and stop teams. And that’s kind of left us the last few games.”
The back-to-back losses left the Raiders facing uncharted territory going into its matchup against Bloomsburg University on Feb. 4 at Nelson Field House.
But SU rebounded in a huge way, knocking off the rival Huskies 84–59 behind an outstanding day from Sleva who scored 28 points and hauled in 18 rebounds.
Despite leading by six at the half, the Raiders took over the game in the final 20 minutes. SU hit four-consecutive 3-pointers out of the locker room — three of which were off the sharp-shooting Justin McCarthur.
McCarthur and Sleva dominated in the second half, scoring a combined 36 points in the frame to seal the win. Sleva scored 10 points in an 18–4 SU run that put the Raiders up 23 points with 9:54 left to play.
With his 28 points Saturday, Sleva has scored 20 or more points in five of his last seven games. McCarthur also set a new career high with 26 points. 20 of those points came in the second half.
The Raiders also improved defensively, limiting Bloomsburg to just more than 35 percent shooting in the game. The mark was the second-lowest shooting percentage allowed to a PSAC team by SU this season. Their highest mark came when it held West Chester University to just more than 23 percent shooting on Jan. 11.
SU finished the night shooting just more than 54 percent from the field, including 58.6 percent in the second half.
The Raiders, now 19–2, 15–2 in the PSAC, prepare to host Lock Haven University on Wednesday night at Heiges Field House. SU won the first meeting against the Bald Eagles with an 86–70 road win at Thomas Field House. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.