The Shippensburg University men’s basketball team may have received a bit of a wake-up call on Monday night, having to play in the first round of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Tournament against Millersville University after finding itself atop of the PSAC East in the final week of play.
The Raiders, (22-6), wasted no time sending a message, as SU used a quick start, followed by an outstanding second half on defense to oust the pesky Marauders, (10-19), from the PSAC Tournament with a 94-67 victory at Heiges Field House.
“Tonight, they took it to a new level,” SU coach Chris Fite said. “It’s playoff basketball. They were ready to go. It was nice we played a full 40 minutes. No matter the combination of guys that were on the court tonight, they kept getting stops.”
SU received excellent contributions from its star-studded cast, as senior All-American forward Dustin Sleva and sophomore John Castello each recorded double-doubles, while senior guard Justin McCarthur added 19 points and six assists in the win.
The Raiders began a stellar run just three minutes into the contest, grabbing a 28-8 lead with 11:14 remaining in the first half, in large part to Sleva dropping 20 points in the opening half, including a perfect 10-of-10 at the free-throw line.
Millersville refused to go away, pushing SU’s lead to just seven points after a 19-7 scoring run in which the Marauders hit five 3-pointers, including three by forward James Sullivan. The Marauders went into the break making their last seven shots from the field, including a 57 percent shooting percentage in the first half.
Clearly, the Raiders had saw enough of that.
Despite having 42 points at the half, Millersville ended the game with just 67 points. The Raider defense clamped down on the Marauders and unleashed a dominant run that included a 22-8 scoring run to take a 73-50 lead with just less than 11 minutes left to play.
The Raiders held Millersville to just 37 percent shooting in the second half, including 0-of-6 from 3-point range, after Sullivan had knocked down five 3-pointers himself in the first half.
Sullivan finished the game with 19 points for the Marauders. Conrad Chambers and Jordan Greene each chipped in 12 points for Millersville.
“Our D was tremendous tonight, it’s certainly what won us the game,” Fite said. “We played a great offensive game too. We really shared the ball well and made shots, but defense has what we’ve been really harping on lately and I’m really proud of the way we bounced back and redeemed ourselves from the performance we had out at Millersville.”
It was a special night for the SU senior class, who may have played in their final home game at Heiges Field House. The Raiders posted a perfect 15-0 record at home this season and have won all but three of their home games dating back to the 2014-15 season.
Sleva finished the night with 24 points, 13 rebounds and three assists. The double-double was his 19th of the season and the 55th of his career. Sleva is now just 35 points shy of 2,000 for his career. He would become the first Raider to ever score 2,000 points for the men’s program.
Castello finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while senior Clay Conner had seven points and six assists to just one turnover. The game marked the 16th game of the season Conner had one or fewer turnovers.
SU finished the night with 20 assists and an incredible 23-of-25 shooting from the charity stripe.
The Raiders also received a strong contribution from the bench, as Na’Quan Council scored seven points included a layup on an alley-oop from McCarthur. Freshman guard Jake Biss had five points while Manny Span had four points and played tremendous defense on the night.
For SU, the victory spelled revenge after falling to Millersville 87-84 at Pucillo Gymnasium earlier this month. Sleva broke SU’s all-time scoring record in the contest, despite the loss.
Now, SU will match up with West Chester University for the third time this season, after splitting both matches this season. The Golden Rams, (21-5), won the more recent matchup Feb. 21 at Hollinger Fieldhouse.
The Golden Rams however, have not played in a week, after having the final bye of the 2017-18 season on Saturday.
Fite believes that his team is in a good position with a chance to capitalize on rust, as the Golden Rams have not played in a week.
“This group has got what it takes,” Fite said. “We can be as good as anyone in the country, if we come out and play like we did tonight. I’m excited to go down to West Chester and I think we’ve got a really good chance to win there.”
SU and West Chester tip off at 7:30 p.m. at West Chester Wednesday night. The game will be broadcast live on WSYC 88.7 FM and also streamed on the WSYC app.