CALIFORNIA – The men’s basketball teams at California and Indiana have played some of the most important, and most memorable, games in PSAC history.
During a long stretch of years, in the not-too-distant past, a Cal-IUP game meant that at least a West Division title was on the line.
While the stakes were not as high Wednesday night at Cal’s Convention Center, the Vulcans and Crimson Hawks played a game that almost added the most unlikely chapter to the rivalry.
IUP, ranked No. 16 in the NCAA Division II, forged a 22-point lead less than 12 minutes into the game and seemed to be headed for an easy victory that would keep the Crimson Hawks in a tie for first place in the division.
California, however, was determined to use the final 28 minutes to its advantage and almost pulled off a stunning victory. The Vulcans erased the huge deficit and took a two-point lead with two minutes remaining. IUP, however, made seven of eight free throws in the final 66 seconds and held off California, 70-68.
The game wasn’t decided until a three-pointer by Cal guard Keith Lowe bounced off the rim as time expired.
While the comeback by the Vulcans (5-5, 6-8) was indeed thrilling, it only made the loss more even more frustrating.
“You can’t spot a team 22 points,” Cal coach Bill Brown said. “It all starts with the beginning of the game. We don’t have the experience or the personnel to gradually work our way into a game.
“We competed better in the second half. We started rebounding better. But we can’t give a team as efficient as IUP the opportunity to take wide-open shots because they don’t take bad shots.”
Many of the shots IUP (8-2, 12-2) took in the first 12 minutes found their way through the basket. The Crimson Hawks led 20-5 and 29-7 before a basket by Cal’s Mitchell Weedon seemed to signal that it was time for the Vulcans to start playing.
Cal tightened its defense, began making shots and pulled to within 40-30 at halftime. The momentum stayed with the Vulcans in the second half, and Cal pulled to within 61-59 on a three-pointer by Tyrone Steals. Quentin Harding then made consecutive baskets, the latter a jumper from the free-throw line, to give Cal a stunning 63-61 lead with 2:23 left.
The lead didn’t last long as IUP’s Scooter Renkin tied it at 63-63 by making a jump shot, and Anthony Wells’ two free throws gave the Crimson Hawks the lead for good with 1:06 left. IUP made seven consecutive free throws down the stretch before Wells missed one with 3.7 seconds to play, giving Cal a chance for a dramatic victory.
The Vulcans, without the benefit of a timeout, were able to get the ball upcourt quickly and Lowe, the Vulcans’ leading scorer, raced up the right sideline. He lofted a 21-foot jumper between two defenders that bounced off the back of the rim as the buzzer sounded.
“After getting the rebound with 3.7 seconds left, we couldn’t have asked for a better shot, and we had the perfect guy taking it,” Brown said. “Eight out of 10 times, that shot goes down.”
For the Vulcans, it was their third consecutive game decided by three points or fewer. They have lost two of those down-to-the-wire contests.
“That was a typical game in that we didn’t do the small things,” Brown said. “Two-point games are very difficult, but I hope the young men can take something from this one.”
The loss leaves Cal tied with Edinboro for fifth place in the West, one game ahead of Lock Haven and two in front of last-place Clarion. The PSAC has expanded its postseason tournament this year to 12 teams, with the top six in each division qualifying.
“We still control our own destiny,” Brown said. “At least we don’t have to put it in anyone else’s hands.”
Tynell Fortune led Cal with 12 points. Lowe followed with 11 points and five assists, and Harding and Jake Jacubec each had 10 points. Jacubec made a clutch three-pointer with 46 seconds left that pulled the Vulcans to within 67-66.
Renkin paced IUP with 16 points. Wells scored 13 points and Marcel Souberbielle had 10. Blake Vedder, IUP’s 7-for-3 junior center, a transfer from Rhode Island, played six minutes but did not score or grab a rebound.