Pitt-Johnstown men are edged by No. 1 Indiana (Pa.), women claim crucial win | Sports

JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania— While the record doesn’t reflect it, the Pitt-Johnstown men appear to play some of their best basketball games when they face off against Indiana, Pa., particularly over the past three seasons.

The Mountain Cats gave the undefeated Crimson Hawks all they could handle Saturday afternoon, but Indiana once again characterized his place as the No. 1 in the country.

A 3-pointer from Jaylon Stewart with just over a minute left gave the Crimson Hawks the lead, and Indiana would eventually claim a 76-71 win in the second game of a doubleheader at the Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center.

“Last year they finished #4 and we beat them,” said Pitt-Johnstown coach Bob Rukavina. “It was about the same situation, so we’re used to the atmosphere when we play them. I thought it was just a great game from both teams.”

Pitt-Johnstown defeated Indiana 70-68 in a thrilling win last January. It was the Mountain Cats’ only win in their past eight meetings with the Crimson Hawks, three-time defending champions of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC).

This time the Mountain Cats led by up to nine points in the first half and went into the break with a 36:32 lead.

Indiana (15-0, 9-0 PSAC) used their first advantage since the first minutes of the game with two free throws from Dallis Dillard to lead 41-40 at the 16-12 mark of the second half. The two teams traded narrow leads in the ensuing period, resulting in a 66-all tie with three minutes remaining.

Stewart downed a Trey to put Indiana ahead with 1:54 minutes remaining, to which Pitt-Johnstown’s Joe Batt responded with a 3-pointer of his own to level the score at 69. On the ensuing possession, Stewart hit another trey to put the Crimson Hawks in the lead as the Mountain Cats missed both chances to level the game in the last 20 seconds.

Stewart matched Shawndale Jones with a team-high 17 points off the bench for Indiana, going 5-to-5 off the field and 4-to-4 on the line, all in the second half.

“He really did it for her,” Rukavina said of Stewart. “He hit the big shots when they needed him. Everyone played hard. Our boys did a great job too. Now all we have to do is use that and make another run.”

Andrew Shull scored a game-high 23 points for the Mountain Cats while Ryan Smith, John Paul Kromka and Batt had 14, 13 and 12 points respectively.

The loss resulted in a six-game winning streak for the Mountain Cats (11-4, 7-2) and handed Pitt-Johnstown their first home loss of the season after winning in the previous seven competitions.

Three of the Mountain Cats’ four losses came to teams that ranked in the top 10 in Division II, including No. 8 West Liberty and No. 4 Nova Southeastern. The other was PSAC East Division league leaders East Stroudsburg, who are 13-1 overall.

Rukavina said playing against top-flight teams is a strategy for the postseason.

“We played these teams because of the schedule,” said Rukavina. “To get to the NCAA tournament, a strong schedule means a lot, so our schedule has to get off the charts. We can play with anyone. We just need to be able to get a few shots off at the end of the game.”

In the opener, the Pitt-Johnstown women rode a strong defensive effort to defeat Indiana 62-42 and handed the Crimson Hawks their third straight loss.

“IUP finishes in the top 25 almost every year,” said Pitt-Johnstown women’s coach Mike Drahos, “so of course when you can beat a team of this caliber it’s always a very good thing. I’m very proud of the effort we put in today. It really showed what can happen when you put all the pieces together.”

As of Saturday, Indiana had won 19 of their last 21 duels against Pitt-Johnstown, dating back to March 2007. Last season’s 63-60 win at the Sports Center was Drahos’ first win against Indiana in his 10-year tenure.

The Mountain Cats helped record their second win over the Crimson Hawks under Drahos by forcing 24 turnovers in Indiana and pulling four tackles on defense.

Pitt-Johnstown also kept Indiana at 30% shooting from the field, including just seven shot attempts in the second quarter, where the Mountain Cats used nine turnovers to overwhelm the Crimson Hawks 19-9 and take the lead for good.

“We’re proud of our defense and our rebounds,” said Drahos. “I was very disappointed with this performance in our last game (62:55 defeat against Clarion at the bottom of the table). We didn’t play at our level and I challenged them in training. I am very happy with the way they reacted.”

Pitt-Johnstown’s seven-point halftime lead grew to 10 midway through the third quarter, and the Mountain Cats led 42-33 into the fourth quarter.

The Mountain Cats then pulled away with a 13-0 run to open the fourth quarter as the Crimson Hawks started the frame at 10-0 from the floor. Pitt-Johnstown led by as much as 23 before Drahos came on on the bench with a minute left.

Peyton Alazaus recorded a game-high 16 points and nine rebounds for the Mountain Cats. Ashley Norling scored 15 points, Olivia Fasick 14 and Hayden Taylor 10.

Pitt-Johnstown will travel to Seton Hill for a doubleheader on Wednesday.

“The only thing about PSAC, and I tell them this every day, is that there’s no such thing as an easy game,” Drahos said. “It doesn’t matter who we play next, it will still be a tough duel. We still have to do our best and do our best.”

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