Beating Indiana University of Pennsylvania at its Kovalchick Complex meant snapping the Crimson Hawks’ 31-game home winning streak.
Virginia Union took a shot at that — and IUP, the nation’s third-ranked team, per the NABC Coaches Poll — Sunday night in the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament in Indiana, Pa., located about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh.
The unranked Panthers stayed with the Crimson Hawks for a half, and then hit an offensive wall, falling 60-45 and ending their season 24-8. VUU was outscored 23-0 over a 13-minute stretch of the second half, and the Panthers missed 21 consecutive attempts from the field during that span.
VUU shot 25%, 21% in its 18-point second half. IUP, which led by 3 at halftime, took a 21-point lead with seven minutes remaining. VUU scored 7 points in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
“I’ve got to take my hat off to Indiana,” said VUU Head Men’s Basketball Coach Jay Butler. “They’re a great basketball team and they’re well coached. This is something that our guys dream about, getting to the NCAA Tournament, and this is all of our guys’ first trip to the tournament. I made it four times as a player, but just to get these kids a taste of the NCAA, it’s huge for our program. I thought we fought, but we had a bad stretch coming out of the locker room where we just couldn’t find the basket. We always talk about defense and holding teams to 60 points, and we held IUP to 60 tonight, but we lost.”
In this eight-team Atlantic Region at the Kovalchick Complex, IUP (32-1) was the top seed and VUU was the fourth seed. VUU and IUP met in the Atlantic Region semifinals, with the championship game scheduled for Tuesday night (7 o’clock) at the same site.
For the Atlantic Region title and a berth in the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight, IUP will meet second-seeded West Liberty, which defeated third-seeded Mercyhurst 86-72 earlier Sunday night.
Virginia Union’s trapping, full-court pressure that turns into a matchup zone confused the Crimson Hawks early. VUU took an 8-2 lead and was very effective on the offensive glass. The Crimson Hawks took an early-game timeout to reset.
IUP as the evening developed grew more comfortable against the Panthers’ unusual defense, and the Crimson Hawks took their first lead, 24-23, with 3:30 left in the first half.
IUP led 30-27 at halftime. Before the break, VUU shot 28.6% and the Crimson Hawks held Hermitage High graduate Robert Osborne, Union’s top player and the CIAA player of the year, to 7 points on 3-of-12 shooting. He finished 3 for 17, with 7 points. The Panthers stayed in it during the first half by scoring 17 second-chance points.