Croup’s Corner – A shocking, much-needed victory

Written By Josh Croup, Sports Columnist

It’s only fitting that on the day we celebrate 50 years at the Globe, we’re also covering one of the biggest upsets in Point Park men’s basketball history.

Seriously – in history.

The men’s basketball program began in the fall of 1967, just months after the first edition of the Globe. Since then, the team has more than 700 victories and five NAIA National Tournament appearances.

There’s a lot of history in this program.

Point Park hosted Indiana University East Friday night at CCAC South, where the team has played its home games since the 1996-97 season. The Red Wolves were ranked seventh in the Division II Men’s Basketball Coaches’ Top 25 Poll entering the week, one year after making a trip to the NAIA Final Four.

IU East defeated Point Park 102-79 three weeks prior in Richmond, Ind. Point Park lost its previous six River States Conference (RSC) games entering Friday and was the obvious underdog.

Head Coach Gabe Bubon said it perfectly after the game.

“We just never know what we’re going to have,” Bubon said.

The team has been plagued with injuries and suspensions all season long that led to its 7-15 record and 4-8 RSC record entering Friday. One night, the team could be without a star guard due to academic suspension. The next night, its top shooters are cold and the players aren’t gelling as a team.

The Pioneers were on the verge of virtual elimination from the postseason picture, and a loss against IU East and Ohio Christian over the weekend would essentially seal the team’s fate.

It wasn’t looking promising. IU East walked into CCAC South confident and cocky. They had every right to feel good about a matchup with the Pioneers.

After all, Point Park was without star players, and the remaining players were part of a team that has been known in recent years for selfish play.

But the Pioneers showed up, and they came out hot. They were hitting shots and playing defense – two elements of their game that have been missing as of late. The teams traded punch for punch, and the IU East bench seemed increasingly nervous with every right hook the Pioneers threw.

Point Park somehow held onto a 41-37 lead at halftime behind senior Jaylen Mann’s 12 points.

Mann has had his fair share of struggles this season. Since the calendar turned to 2017, Mann averaged just 3.4 points per game, after averaging 9.5 points per game in the 12 games he played before winter break.

The Pioneers needed Mann’s effort in the first half, something he admitted he didn’t always show.

“I don’t feel like I put my all into other games,” Mann said afterward. “This time, I thought it was important because they were a ranked team. I want to play hard all the time, but sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”

The game featured nine ties and 15 lead changes, but the Pioneers came out on top, 79-76, for an upset over the No. 7 team in the NAIA.

“We’ve had a tough season, but they come in every day and they still want to work,” Bubon said. “I give us a lot of credit for that. We could have packed it in a couple games ago.”

They could have packed it in, but the Pioneers came together for what was one of the biggest upsets in program history.

The last win over a top 10 team in the country was not readily available. Bill Ketrow, the team’s scorekeeper since the early 90’s, said the last time he remembers a win like he saw Friday was during the Pioneers’ historic 1996-97 season, which ended at the NAIA Final Four.

Bubon was all smiles after the game, reflecting the mood of his team.

“We may come out slow and lethargic tomorrow after a hard-fought game like this, but for what we’ve been through this year, we’re going to enjoy this one,” Bubon said. “At this point, we’re just happy to get a win. We’ll take it all day long.”

The Pioneers did come out lethargic in the second half Saturday against Ohio Christian, and eventually fell to the Trailblazers, 96-78.

Knocking off a top 10 team on Friday will not only go down as a historic win in Point Park history, it also gets the Pioneers back in the playoff picture.

They’re only a game and a half behind Rio Grande for the fourth and final spot from the RSC East in the conference tournament. The two teams will meet Feb. 18 at Rio Grande with a conference tournament berth on the line.

The Pioneers certainly should enjoy this win as they look ahead to their final few games and take lessons from the overall team effort shown against IU East.