EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s first-half defensive plan to deal with Augusta big man Tyshaun Crawford worked about as well as the Crimson Hawks could have hoped.
The second half didn’t work out anywhere near as well against the 7-foot-1 center.
After doing little in the first 15 minutes, Crawford scored six points in a span of two minutes to turn a three-point IUP edge into a two-point deficit. It proved a harbinger of doom for IUP, as Crawford scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half and the Jaguars pulled away, ending the Crimson Hawks’ season with a 76-61 defeat in the Final Four on Thursday night at the Ford Center.
“I thought we did a good job in the first half of making the defensive plays necessary, but we obviously didn’t make enough of them as the game went on,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “You can either do one of two things: you can keep banging and try to move them up the lane if you have the strength to do that, and if not, you have to fight around him. I thought we did a good job for 14 minutes, but then the defense broke down and he got six straight points and got his confidence.”
Once Crawford got going, so did the Jaguars (33-3). The Crimson Hawks (33-3) knew they didn’t want to risk falling prey to the 3-point shots that lifted Augusta past Chico State and defended the arc accordingly, holding Miguel Arnold to just three points two days after Arnold burned Chico State for 33.
But their good work on Arnold meant the Crimson Hawks’ already smaller lineup had to leave the paint wide open for Crawford, and in the second half, the Jaguars took full advantage. Crawford finished the game 12-for-12 from the field, mainly because IUP had nobody who could guard him in the paint.
“We knew we had to get the big fella the ball,” Augusta coach Dip Metress said. “(Ja’Quieze) Kirby had four assists and Miguel had five assists, so he’s not doing it by himself. He’s really good, but he has got to get the ball. We made an adjustment in the second half to look from the top spot and Kirby hit him a couple times.”
On the IUP bench, that scenario was exactly what Lombardi had feared. This wasn’t the first time the Crimson Hawks had gone up against a talented big man, as they’d done a credible job against Illinois and Kofi Cockburn in an exhibition game. But unlike the Fighting Illini, the Jaguars made a concentrated effort to get Crawford the ball, leaving IUP with little recourse.
“We couldn’t match up to the physicality,” Lombardi said. “(Chico State) had some big bodies and were banging like roller derby (on Tuesday), and we just didn’t have that type of physical body to stand up to them for so long. They did a good job of understanding they could outphysical us in the post and did a great job executing.”
Making matters worse was the fact that Crawford pushed the Crimson Hawks out to the arc and forced them to play a mid to long-range game. Had IUP’s shots fallen like they did on Tuesday night, that wouldn’t have been an issue, but this time, the Crimson Hawks couldn’t get much of anything to drop.
IUP shot just 29 percent in the second half, as most of the offense disappeared. Tomiwa Sulaiman led the Crimson Hawks with 17 points, but only three of those points came in the final 20 minutes.
“We just tried to control what we could control,” said Armoni Foster, who had 10 of his 12 points in the second half. “We can’t control our shots going in, but we can control our effort and our defense. I think we did a good job of that, but we can’t control if the ball goes in.”
In essence, that summed up the ending to the Crimson Hawks’ season perfectly. The journey had ended short of the ultimate goal, but IUP’s end hadn’t come because of poor play or a lack of effort. In the end, the Crimson Hawks simply ran into an exceptional opponent that offered a bad matchup.
“It’s definitely tough,” said IUP junior Dave Morris, who scored 10 points. “But I feel like we gave it our all, so I can’t really dwell on it too much or really be mad, because we gave it our all. That’s all I can ask for.”