Historic upset restores playoff hopes

Photo by Sam Robinson | Point Park Athletics
Junior forward Gavin Rajahpillay handles the ball late in the Pioneers’ 79-76 upset victory over No. 7 IU East. Rajahpillay tallied a team-high 16 points.

Written By Derek Malush, Staff Writer

The men’s basketball team eyed a playoff berth last weekend when it hosted the nationally-ranked Indiana University East (IU East) Red Wolves and the Ohio Christian Trailblazers as the River State Conference (RSC) playoff picture takes shape.

Both teams are ahead of the Pioneers in the standings, and IU East was the No. 7 team in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

“We have to win one of these two games this weekend to continue our season and keep it going,” Head Coach Gabe Bubon said before the games.

Point Park was routed by then-No. 11 IU East in mid-January, 102-79.

But the determined Pioneers started strong and coined the halftime lead over the Red Wolves, 41-37. Senior forward Jaylen Mann and sophomore guard Asim Pleas combined for 22 points in the half.

All five starters finished with double-digit point figures, as the team shot 45 percent from the field. Point Park finished the game with 17 3-pointers on the evening.

Junior guard Gavin Rajahpillay led the team with 18 points and six assists, as the Pioneers upset the Red Wolves, 79-76.

“[This game] required a lot of physical and emotional effort,” Rajahpillay said.

With the Pioneers down 73-70 late in the game, they managed to construct a 7-0 run that was capped off by a Rajahpillay corner 3-pointer, granting them a 77-73 lead.

The lead changed 15 times throughout the 40 minutes of play, as the Pioneers pulled off the upset win.

“We exerted a lot of energy, and these guys wanted this one bad,” Bubon said.

The Pioneers haven’t won back-to-back games since December and tried for their fourth RSC win Saturday against Ohio Christian on Senior Day.

For seniors Mann, Lasanna Konate and Art Christian, it was their final regular season home game.

“It feels scary,”  Konate said. “I’m really going to miss this a lot. During my two years here, I made a lot of friends. We’re kind of like a family. With these last few games, I want to give it my 100 percent effort.”

The Pioneers fell behind the Trailblazers, 41-37 after the first 20 minutes of play on only 30 percent shooting from the field.

Trailblazer forward Gary Hoover, RSC rebound and field-goal percentage leader, went to work and completed the game with 26 points and 16 boards.

Point Park trailed by 11 with a little more than ten minutes to play in the game, but Ohio Christian pulled away late. The Trailblazers finished the game shooting 53 percent from the field en route to a 96-78 RSC win.

“We’re not very good at back-to-back games,” Bubon said. “It’s the quick 12-hour turnaround that makes it tough.”

Point Park completed the contest shooting 28 for 70 from the field.

Rajahpillay led Point Park with 16 points and four assists.

“There were just no legs out there,” Rajahpillay said. “We beat the No. 7 team in the nation last night, so it’s hard to bring that same level back in a 14-hour span.”

Point Park remains fifth in the RSC East Division, but only the top four teams in the division qualify for the conference tournament.

After Tuesday night’s RSC game at Carlow, Point Park will travel to Villa Maria for a non-conference game Thursday. The Pioneers hit the road Feb. 17 and 18 to close out the season at Rio Grande and West Virginia Tech.