Hot starts at Heiges Field House have been a theme for the Raiders this season.
Wednesday night against the Bald Eagles was no different, as the Shippensburg University basketball team held Lock Haven University scoreless in the first 4:29 of the game in a 92-75 win in a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) East Division matchup. With the win, the Raiders improved to 35-3 at home over the past three seasons.
SU All-American forward Dustin Sleva scored a career-high 34 points, while grabbing 14 rebounds. The double-double was Sleva’s 10th of the season and the 46th of his career. Raider guard Justin McCarthur scored 19 points while forward John Castello scored 18 points and finished with eight rebounds.
“I just let the game come to me,” Sleva said. “We were hitting on all cylinders in the first half and our guys were hitting shots and when it was my turn, I did the same thing.”
The Raiders, (10-3, 6-2 PSAC), started the game on a 15-0 run behind five points from Castello and 3-pointers from Clay Conner and McCarthur. Lock Haven had no answer for the 3-point shot in the first half, as SU knocked down nine shots from behind the arc in the opening half.
“I like the way that we are playing,” SU coach Chris Fite said. “I think we continue to get better and I still think there is a lot of room for improvement. We just need to keep doing the right things and keep working hard to take advantage of these last couple months.”
The Bald Eagles (5-9, 3-7 PSAC) tried to claw back into the game, riding a solid performance from its leading scorer, forward Amir Hinton, but the Raiders were up to the task and held Hinton in check for most of the night. Hinton still finished with 26 points in the loss. Lock Haven could not cut the SU lead to single digits after the Raiders led by as much as 24 in the opening half.
The opening minutes provided a glimpse of SU’s stingy defense that elevated the program to new heights last season, but Sleva believes that the team still has room to grow to return to the same level of defensive intensity that led it to a PSAC title last year.
“We’ve been playing good defense, but we haven’t played a good defensive game for 40 minutes,” Sleva said. “It’s a long season and we hit our stride at the end of the season. Offensively we look good, but defensively, we need to turn it up a little bit.”
With Sleva’s performance on Wednesday night, he broke his previous career-high of 33 points that he set last season against Mansfield University on Feb. 11, before tying it against Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) in the PSAC Tournament Semifinals on March 4.
Sleva now has 1,669 career points, which is third in school history behind Keith Hill (1,780 points) and Chuck Davis (1,825 points).
Every time that Lock Haven appeared to gain momentum to cut the Raider lead, Sleva found a way to put the ball in the basket to keep the Bald Eagles at bay.
Fite expressed his appreciation for his senior leader.
“He’s great. It’s obvious he is our go-to guy and he gets us out of a lot of tough situations, and tonight was no different,” Fite said. “They made a run at us and got it close, but every time they did, Dustin got a big bucket or made a big play. I’m happy we’ve got him.”
McCarthur also reached a milestone for SU on Wednesday, surpassing the 1,300-point mark for his career. He now has 1,308 points — good enough for 12th all-time at SU. McCarthur currently holds the school record for 3-pointers with 230, as well the single-season record for threes he set last season with 101 3-pointers.
The Raiders still remain in fourth place in the PSAC East Division, just three games behind West Chester University for the lead. West Chester is currently 13-1, including a 9-1 mark in league play. Kutztown University and East Stroudsburg University hold the No. 2 and No. 3 spots.
While the Raiders still have a long way to go as the season nears the mid-point, Fite acknowledged the clear talent that his team has, and how it has the ability to put together a playoff run.
“We’ve got the pieces to have a great season and a great run, but we just can’t take anything for granted,” Fite said.
SU hosted Cheyney University (2-12, 2-8 PSAC) on Saturday afternoon and dominated the Wolves, 84-50. The Raiders hit 15 3-pointers in the win, with nine different players hitting a shot from deep. Thirteen different Raiders scored in the game, and SU led by as many as 46 points in the second half. The SU bench accounted for 46 points in the win.
SU, 11-3, 7-2 PSAC, now travels to Mansfield University today to face the Mountaineers (4-10, 3-8 PSAC) in a PSAC East Division matchup. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. from Mansfield.