The Shippensburg University men’s basketball team ground out a tough 71-70 win against Lock Haven University in the first round of the PSAC Championship tournament Monday night at Heiges Field House.
The Raiders used a career night from redshirt-senior Manny Span, who finished with 16 points and 18 rebounds, to help them get through a gritty game against a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) opponent they had already played twice this season.
Span had it going early, scoring eight points in the game’s first 10 minutes of play while dominating the post on offense. The redshirt-senior is not known for his scoring ability, but everyone could tell he was having a good night when he made a jump shot from the elbow.
“The flow of the game, I could just feel when it got down to it that some plays I could make,” Span said. “My teammates found me and they gave up some of their shots to find me.”
On a night where the team’s top two scorers, sophomore Jake Biss and senior Antonio Kellem, shot a combined 10-of-30 from the field and 3-of-12 from 3-point range, it was important that Span was able to step in and fill some of that lost scoring.
“We need to be better. I’m disappointed that we played as poorly as we did on both ends of the court,” coach Chris Fite said. “Fortunately, we were able to weather it. Manny stepped up and had a big night for us. He pulled down some big rebounds down the stretch.”
The Raiders struggled to control the ball on Monday night, committing 17 turnovers. The lack of successful ball movement against Lock Haven played a big role in why the team’s offense struggled down the stretch.
“We had 17 turnovers — it might be a season high for us — against a team that doesn’t press,” Fite said. “We were just very sloppy with the ball tonight and our decision-making but fortunately, our defense was able to do just enough to get us past the finish line.”
The first half was a mostly back-and-forth affair until the final six minutes. SU went on a 19-7 run over the final 5:55 of the first half, using a couple 3-pointers from junior John Castello and some good hustle plays on both ends of the floor to widen the lead to 45-33 heading into halftime.
Lock Haven came out of halftime on fire, outscoring the Raiders 16-8 over the first six minutes of the second half. The Raiders were unable to get much going offensively in the second half, committing 12 of their 17 turnovers in the second half during multiple long stretches of time without scoring the ball.
Monday night’s win was a testament to the SU defense, which picked up the struggling offense to keep the team in the game. Even though the offense could only put up 26 points in the second half, it was still enough to get past LHU and keep the season alive.
Holding a one-point lead with under 10 seconds to go, the Raiders committed a turnover off an inbound pass to give the Bald Eagles a golden opportunity to try to win the game. However, the Raider defense was able to force Lock Haven’s Matt Cerruti into taking a difficult runner and SU was able to pull down the rebound to seal the victory.
Span had a career night on the offensive end of the floor, but he also played his usual role of quarterbacking the defense. On that final play, he was yelling out at some of the other players to make sure they were in position.
“I can teach the young guys all the things I have seen throughout the years,” Span said while talking about his importance on the defensive end of the floor. “That last play down there, I was telling them where to go, where to stand and where to be. Just putting that on my shoulders and helping the young guys.”
SU — a team with only two seniors — showed it is a young team prone to making some rookie mistakes. Fite talked about the importance of taking the season one game at a time and not beginning to look too far ahead.
“We just have to try to find a way to get our heads right and have our confidence going down to West Chester and letting the chips fall where they may,” Fite said. “This time of year, it’s just been one game at a time and if you start looking too far ahead, it starts messing you up. That might have been our problem tonight too, guys looking ahead and not taking this game as seriously as they should have and they almost paid for it.”
Span, in his last game at Heiges, showed up in a big way to help continue the Raiders’ season.
“Manny was the reason we won the game tonight, both offensively and defensively,” Fite said. “His presence on the defensive end and rebounding the ball as well as finishing and getting some tough buckets for us when we needed him. That’s the nice part about this team. All year long, it’s been different guys stepping up on different nights.”
The Raiders next take on West Chester University in a quarterfinals matchup in the PSAC Championship tournament in West Chester on Wednesday at 7 p.m.