Croup’s Corner – Bitter, historic end to a bitter, historic year

Written By Josh Croup, Sports Columnist

This isn’t how it was supposed to end. Not like this.

There were records broken left and right, and not the records you want mentioned next to your name.

There were injuries to star players at the worst possible times and academic suspensions that, for the second year in a row, proved devastating.

There was optimism and confidence at the beginning of the year that made it seem like the team had something special brewing, even sporting “8-20” on their practice jerseys to serve as motivation to best last year’s record. 

That optimism soon turned into a daily struggle to push forward with fewer and fewer bodies, but there was no giving up through all of the twists and turns throughout the season.

Still, last week was possibly the worst ending to a season in the 51-year history of the Point Park men’s basketball program.

Point Park started the week tied at 33 at the end of the first half with the Rio Grande RedStorm. That quickly developed into a 90-69 loss. Then, the records began to fall at Ohio Christian.

Jalen Hearn entered his senior night with Ohio Christian already with one game against Point Park under his belt this year. He knew he would get a lot of looks at open 3-pointers based on the zone defense he anticipated Point Park bringing back to the floor. He scored 27 the first time the two met in Pittsburgh.

He matched his previous game total with 27 points in the first half alone, all from long range, as he helped his team to a 76-37 advantage at the end of the frame. Point Park scored 77 on the entire game.

Ohio Christian ended the game with 80 more than its opponent by the final buzzer, posting one of the highest single-game scoring efforts in National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) history and shattering the national season-high in NAIA DII by 18 points.

Hearn set the NAIA record with the most 3-pointers in a game with 19, recording this year’s national single-game best 59 points in the win. The previous season high in the NAIA this year was 51 and the previous season mark for the most treys was 12.

He knew he was close during the second half when teammates told him he was two away from setting the record. He hit his 19th shot on his 26th attempt from outside with six minutes left in the game and sat out the rest of the contest.

Hearn wasn’t born when the NAIA record of 18 3-pointers was set in 1996 on 30 attempts by Chad Bickley of Christian Heritage College, now named San Diego Christian College.

Even without Hearn’s 59 points, Ohio Christian still would have won by 21. He could have stopped shooting, as could the rest of his team. He told The Globe that the team used the game to prepare for its next game against Indiana University East (IU East), the top team in the conference and the No. 2 team in the NAIA. IU East won that contest 92-68.

“We didn’t try to play down to the competition,” Hearn said. “I know it sucks for them that they didn’t have a lot of guys to play. I know as a competitor, I wish they would have had more to play. We just continued to take it as a stepping stone to continue to grow.”

West Virginia Tech delivered the final blow to Point Park two days later with a 130-76 win, tied for the sixth-highest scoring output in NAIA DII basketball this year.

The loss against West Virginia Tech extended Point Park’s program-long losing streak to 15 and set the record for the most points allowed by the Pioneers in consecutive games with 287, topping the previous high of 254 points allowed in 2010.

Point Park allowed a program-record 96.9 points per game this year after allowing 92.2 points per game last year, which now stands as the third-highest mark in team history.

The Point Park seniors deserved a better ending, but still provided leadership when most would have turned their backs.

Gavin Rajahpillay, the leader of the club for the past two seasons, goes out with 779 career points and a bright future in basketball as a youth mentor. The story of Rushan Roberts was detailed in The Globe two weeks ago and is just getting started. He ended his college career playing the best basketball of his life.

Fousenni Konate ended his career with 530 rebounds and 623 points in his three-year career that was cut short due to a concussion suffered against Carlow two weeks ago. Konate, who comes from a large basketball family is the longest tenured player on the current roster, will be remembered for his dunks, blocks and endless supply of reserved positive energy on and off the court.

When one player on this team had success, particularly the seniors, they often pushed it off to their teammates.

Hearn did much of the same with his performance, giving most of the credit to the defense that made stops and got the ball to him in transition in order to find open shots. He had one important message for the Point Park squad that was at the wrong end of his record-setting senior night.

“Don’t take it for granted. Not everyone gets to play college basketball,” Hearn said. “Whether you’re winning or not, you should always put your best foot forward because there are people that want your position. You should always cherish it.”