CALIFORNIA – The California University men’s basketball team is one with a bright future. The Vulcans, who do not have a senior in their player rotation, have done many good things this season, including clinching a berth in the PSAC tournament.
However, the one thing the Vulcans haven’t done in this turnaround season is beat either of the top two teams in the West Division, Indiana and Pitt-Johnstown.
Play them tough, yes, Cal has done that. But finding a way to beat IUP or UPJ is not as easy as A-B-C.
The final surge, and the victory, Wednesday night belonged to Indiana as the 9th-ranked Crimson Hawks pulled away over the final eight minutes to beat the Vulcans 79-70 at the Convocation Center.
The win improves IUP to 15-2 in the PSAC and 20-2 overall.
And California (11-6, 15-8) will have to be satisfied with playing the Crimson Hawks tough to the end. Cal led by as many as five points in the second half before the more experienced Crimson Hawks pulled away, scoring nine of the final 12 points.
“Our execution wasn’t there the last five minutes,” Cal coach Danny Sancomb said. “We tried to do too much. We forgot what got us there.”
Cal led 61-56 with 10 minutes remaining after a driving three-point play by do-it-all point guard Brent Pegram and two free throws by Luke House. IUP, however, responded with a 9-0 run to take a 65-61 lead and never trailed again.
The Vulcans closed to within 70-67 with less than four minutes remaining when IUP freshman Ethan Porterfield delivered the game’s biggest basket. As the enthusiastic crowd chanted “Dee-fense! Dee-fense!” Porterfield, a 6-8 forward, calmly buried a three-pointer from the right wing that served as a momentum-killer for Cal.
It was the kind of shot a freshmen usually won’t attempt.
“That was the separator,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi admitted. “Ethan’s not a normal freshman. On our level, he’s as good a freshman as there is in the country. He can pass … his basketball IQ is really high.”
Both teams had five players score in double figures, but IUP senior forward Chucky Humphrey grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end of the court. IUP outrebounded Cal by 10.
“Chucky’s 16 rebounds, that was the difference-maker,” Lombardi said.
Armoni Foster led IUP with a game-high 24 points. Porterfield finished with 14, Shawndale Jones and Dave Morris each had 13 and Humphries 10.
Pegram and Jermaine Hall paced Cal with 18 points apiece, but IUP made Pegram work hard for his points. Pegram was only 2-for-11 from three-point range.
“Against Cal, you have to guard one-on-one. They space the floor very well,” Lombardi said. “So you have to play one-on-one, get stops and make them miss shots. Down the stretch, we were able to do that.”
Zyan Collins scored 13 points before leaving the game in the second half with an injury. He did not return.
House scored 11 points and Tim Smith had 10.
“We’re not where we want to be, but we’re not far away,” Sancomb said. “Experience has a lot to do with it. Playing in games like this is important. ... When we’re on, we can beat anybody. But we’re also inconsistent enough that we can lose to anybody.”