If the questions surrounding the Shippensburg University men’s basketball team roster had not been answered in its season-opening win against the Virginia Union Panthers, then perhaps its hard-fought 79-69 victory against the Lincoln University Lions provided some clarity.
Just like their victory against the Panthers, the Raiders got off to a good start and held a lead going into halftime, but opened the second half shaky, allowing the Lions to surge back into the game.
With momentum turned in its favor, Lincoln ripped off a 13–0 run midway through the second half to jump ahead of the Raiders by five points.
With just over five minutes to go and the deficit still holding at five points, the Raiders clamped down and went to work on both ends of the floor. Sophomore guard Jake Biss found junior power forward John Castello for a big three-pointer to jump-start the eventual game-winning run for the Raiders.
Shippensburg forced a bad shot on the other end of the floor on the ensuing possession and the Raiders marched back down the floor with Biss hitting a three-pointer of his own to give SU a one-point lead.
Lincoln called a timeout in an attempt to slow the Raiders’ run and scored to take back the lead, but SU answered again as Castello backed his man down in the post and found senior guard Antonio Kellem cutting to the basket for a quick lay-in.
The Lions once again took back the lead while Biss came up clutch again, knocking down a mid-range jumper on the baseline to put the Raiders up for good with 3:48 to play. Biss would finish with a team-high six assists and a career-high 13 points on an efficient shooting line of 5–10 from the floor and 2–4 from beyond the arc.
One of the more important parts of being a point guard is knowing when you need to get your teammates involved and when you need to step up and hit shots yourself — something which Biss excelled at in the victory against the Lions.
“Being a point guard, you’ve gotta be a leader, it’s just like being a quarterback,” Biss said. “If I can find open shots and I can knock them down that’s great, but if I’m not hitting them I’m looking for whoever is hot to get them the ball.”
After hitting the mid-range jumper, Biss found Castello open for another three-pointer to push the lead to four.
After Costello nearly got dunked on by one of the Lions’ forwards, Biss found Kellem streaking down the floor for a tough and-one layup that sent the Raiders’ home crowd into an explosion of cheers as a shouting Castello embraced Kellem.
“That’s just love man,” Castello said of his celebration with Kellem. “That’s just some love right there. He and I are very close and obviously, he made a great play, a heck of a play, as he always does.”
Kellem, who finished with a team-high 21 points in addition to six rebounds and five assists, would knock the free throw down to push the lead to seven and junior guard Lamar Talley would put the icing on the cake on the ensuing possession, pushing the SU lead to double-digits and all but sealing the Raiders’ victory.
Kellem’s performances against Virginia Union and Lincoln earned him a spot on the Wolf Bus Line’s Classic All-Tournament First Team while Castello, who ended the game with a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds on an efficient shooting night of 7-14 from the field, was named the tournament’s MVP.
“I’m lucky I’ve got great teammates that kind of just said, ‘Keep shooting the ball,’ and kept passing it to me because I was horrible in the first half,” Castello said of his double-double performance. “But they kept passing it to me and I got hot. And then everyone else cooked too so it was exciting there at the end.”
Talley was the fourth Raider to score in double-digits, adding 11 points and three three-pointers in the victory and starting center Manny Span was active on the glass, pulling down nine rebounds, four of which were offensive boards.
The Raiders finished the night nearly 50 percent from the floor at 26-60 (43.3 percent) and a much-improved 37.9 percent (11-29) from three.
SU ended the night with 18 assists on 26 shots while Lincoln only had eight assists on the night. The Raiders also out-rebounded the Lions on both ends of the floor, grabbing 43 rebounds compared to 36 for Lincoln.
Despite some rough patches in their first two games, the Raiders exited the Wolf Bus Line’s Classic with two hard-fought wins against two tough opponents, an opening to the season that head coach Chris Fite cannot help but appreciate.
“It’s huge. Because this locker room, even though a lot of guys have been through it, there’s a lot of guys that haven’t,” Fite said. “And it’s a different dynamic, different chemistry, so it’s nice for this group to have been challenged and been through some tough situations and realize, hey, we’re just as capable as any of these last few teams. We just have to keep taking it one game at a time and believing in ourselves and see where it takes us.”
The Raiders will be back in action on Wednesday, as they take on Wilson College at home from Heiges. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. as SU looks to keep its hot start to the season.