The No. 20-ranked Shippensburg University men’s basketball team improved to 8–0 over the weekend, opening Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) play with hard-fought wins over the Seton Hill Griffins and the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown Mountain Cats.
SU’s 84–70 win over Seton Hill played out in typical fashion, with the Griffins (1–5) hanging around through the first half and in the early second half, until the Raiders turned on the burners and went on a run.
The Raiders led by seven points with 10:40 remaining in the second half before ripping off a 7–0 run to push the lead into double-digits and out of the Griffins’ reach.
Senior guard Antonio Kellem scorched the Seton Hill defense, tying his career-high with 25 points on 10-20 shooting. Kellem also finished with a team-high five assists in addition to four rebounds and two steals.
“We need Tone [Kellem] to be that player,” coach Chris Fite said. “We need him to be very aggressive and be in attack mode that whole time, because it creates opportunities for everybody else on the team.”
Junior forward John Castello ended the game with his second double-double of the season, pulling down 11 rebounds and scoring 16 points.
Sophomore guard Jake Biss tallied 16 points, cashing in on a team-high eight free throws made on nine attempts, while red-shirt senior Manny Span continued his dominance on the offensive boards, grabbing six offensive rebounds on his way to a near double-double of eight points and nine rebounds.
As a team, the Raiders pulled down 21 offensive rebounds, leading to 23 second-chance points, compared to just four offensive rebounds for the Griffins.
“We have a tough group – they play hard and they really pursue the ball,” Fite said. “It’s a mindset; it sounds like a cliché, but it really is. Our guys almost have a competition among themselves, they all want to go after it and get offensive boards and talk about it after the game.”
Shippensburg also held Seton Hill’s leading scorer, Trevor Blondin, to 10 points on nine shots — 13 fewer points than his season average.
The squad followed that dominating performance with a narrow 76–71 victory over the Mountain Cats on Sunday, showcasing some of SU’s best basketball of the season, but also exhibitting some of the team’s worst with UPJ storming back in the second half to threaten SU’s win streak.
Shippensburg (8–0) came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders, quickly jumping ahead to a 17–4 lead over UPJ (5–3) in the first four minutes of the game. The Raiders went into the half with their largest lead of the game — 16 points — but the Mountain Cats countered in the opening minutes of the second.
UPJ ripped off a 16–5 run to get back into the game, eventually whittling SU’s lead down to just four with less than two minutes in the game.
With momentum in the Mountain Cats’ favor and the game reaching its climax, Kellem once again came up clutch for the Raiders, seizing UPJ’s momentum and crushing it with two dagger three-pointers to push the lead back up to nine. Kellem would finish with a team-high 22 points — 17 of which came in the second half — and also led the team in assists, tying his career-high with eight.
“I think it’s just kind of how we’re built and what we’re working towards this season,” Kellem said of the team’s strong play down the stretch. “Every game we give 110 percent, so I feel like that shows, especially when we’re down. Hopefully, later in the season, we don’t have to worry about that, but if we do, we’ve been in that situation before.”
Junior guard Lamar Talley tied Kellem with a team-high three three-pointers on his way to 14 points — narrowly missing a double-double with nine rebounds — while Castello grabbed 11 rebounds and 11 points on his way to his third double-double of the season. Biss rounded out the double-digit scorers for Shippensburg, finishing with 10 points.
Span single-handedly terrorized the Mountain Cats on the offensive glass, nearly equaling UPJ’s offensive rebounding numbers on his own. Span finished the game with 12 rebounds, nine of which were on offense, while the Mountain Cats finished with 11 offensive boards.
“I just think it comes down to wanting something more,” Span said of his offensive rebounding numbers this season. “Obviously I know people are bigger, stronger, better than me; you know, I might not fill out the stat sheet, but I know I can do one thing — rebound — or at least play hard. Keep doing what I can do, never do too much, never do too little, just do me.”
The Raiders ended up out-rebounding UPC 47–31 and also held the Mountain Cats to 71 points, nearly 22 points less than their season average of 92.7 points per game.
Redshirt-freshman Dom Sleva and junior Daylon Carter combined for eight rebounds, and chipped in seven points each in the victory.
The team will return to the court tomorrow at Bowie State University to take on the Bulldogs in a non-conference matchup in Maryland. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.