It has been a historic two weeks for Shippensburg University guard Justin McCarthur.
McCarthur followed up a dominant week with an astonishing shooting night that including a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) record 9-of-9 shooting from 3-point range in an 89-64 win over rival East Stroudsburg University (14-5, 11-4 PSAC) on Wednesday night at Heiges Field House.
“I was able to get hot and make some early,” McCarthur said. “When I get in one of those zones, I just feel like the next one is going to go in. My teammates were able to put me in good positions, whether it was finding me on the fast break or setting good screens.”
Coming off a week in which McCarthur moved into eighth place on SU’s all-time scoring list, his career-high 36-point effort was more than enough to carry the No. 23 Raiders over the Warriors. McCarthur also broke the previous SU record for made threes in a game, which was eight, held by Karriem Parker (1994-95) and Alex Jones (2007-08).
“He was amazing,” SU coach Chris Fite said. “He’s been tremendous for us throughout his career and it was nice to see him have a night like that. He’s had big nights and big stretches but never like that. It was like he was unconscious. I’m excited for him and I’m excited for the whole team. Our effort tonight was tremendous on both ends of the court. It was a great team win and Justin shone within that.”
SU (16-3, 12-2 PSAC) did a tremendous job in the opening minutes against ESU, staying poised against a Warrior full-court press that forces opponents into countless turnovers every night. The Raiders were ready, using the press to their advantage by knocking down multiple 3-pointers in the opening minutes.
Antonio Kellem was fantastic in the opening half, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers before SU’s All-American forward Dustin Sleva got it going on the offensive end. Sleva scored 16 points in the opening half and was key in SU building a 41-27 halftime advantage.
The Raiders never trailed in the victory, racing out to an early 18-6 lead in the first five minutes. SU led the rest of the way by double digits.
“That’s the key against these guys, they really try to turn you over and unsettle you with their pressure,” Fite said.
“The guys were poised in managing those traps and sticky situations. When you can get out of those, you have an odd man situation when you pass out of it and we were in attack mode in the back end and we made them pay.”
In the second half it was all McCarthur as he hit six of his nine 3-pointers in the half. His hot shooting proved to be contagious as SU shot a blistering 72.7 percent from 3-point range in the second half as well as 72.7 percent from the field. The Raiders knocked down eight threes in the second half and 16-of-28 in the game — two shy of the school record set last season against Virginia Union University in the NCAA Tournament.
The Raiders led by as many as 33 points in the second half and came away with a dominant win over ESU in a battle of the Top 2 teams in the PSAC East Division.
The Warriors won the first meeting 90-79 in ESU.
“That’s a huge win for us,” McCarthur said. “They were second in the East and we needed that win, especially after what they did to us up at East Stroudsburg. I think we are in a good groove right now, both offensively and defensively. We just got to keep it rolling.”
SU held the Warriors to 64 points, which is 30 points shy of their average this season, while forcing 21 turnovers.
“Our defense was tremendous tonight to hold them down the way they did,” Fite said. “They scored a bunch of points down the stretch there when we were in a soft prevent defense, but I don’t know if there are many teams that have held them to just 27 points in a half.”
The Raiders have now won their last eight games and nine of their last 10 overall. SU now shifts its attention to a lengthy five-game road trip that began on Saturday at Mercyhurst University.