IUP fell into a 14-point hole in the opening seven minutes before the guard trio of Ashton Smith, Julian Sanders and Scooter Renkin rallied the Crimson Hawks to a 94-81 win over Bowie State in the semifinals of the NCAA Atlantic Region tournament Sunday in West Liberty, W.Va.

IUP (26-5) won for the 13th straight time and will face West Liberty in the championship contest for the second straight year on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The host Hilltoppers advanced with a 98-93 victory over Shaw. The Crimson Hawks defeated West Liberty 84-72 in the regional final at home a year ago and then won twice at the Elite 8 to advance to the national championship game.

Smith scored 24 points, Sanders had 14 of his 22 points in the second half and Renkin sparked the first half rally with 12 points and finished with a career-high 14 overall to lead five Crimson Hawks in double figures. Darryl Webb, IUP’s all-time leading scorer, was held off the board until hitting two free throws with 16:35 left in the game but still totaled 11 points and Marcel Souberbielle contributed 10.

The win gave the Crimson Hawks a total of 81 over the past three years – including seasons of 22, 33 and 26 victories – for the winningest three-year stretch in school history, one more than the 1993-94 through 1995-96 teams accumulated. It also gave IUP its seventh trip to the regional championship game with titles in 1994, 1995, 2000, 2002 and 2010.

Head coach Joe Lombardi earned his 100th win in five seasons as IUP head coach and has an overall record of 100-52 for a winning percentage .658. The Crimson Hawks are 81-16 (.835) over the past three years and will be looking to add a second straight Atlantic Regional title to their back-to-back PSAC championships.

The Crimson Hawks used the long ball to get back in the game and eventually pull away from Bowie State, which finished 23-6 including a 71-68 win over IUP in the second game of the season. IUP has avenged a pair of regular season losses during the NCAA tournament after downing West Virginia Wesleyan in the opening round on Saturday.

Darren Clark led Bowie State with 20 points followed by Eric Vann with 15 and Jay Gavin and Bryan Wilson with 12. Travis Hyman, the Bulldogs’ 7-foot center, was held to nine points and four rebounds.

IUP was a red hot 13 of 19 from 3-point distance, hitting 68.4 percent from beyond the arc and 60.4 percent overall, its best of the season, while also connecting on 23 of 26 from the free throw line for an 88.5 percent accuracy rate. The 94 points was a season high for the Crimson Hawks, and IUP had assists on 20 of its 29 baskets, including eight by Smith.

Sanders made five 3-pointers, one shy of his career high, and Smith was 4 for 5 from long distance. The duo combined for several key buckets to thwart Bowie State rallies in the second half, including one by Sanders after the Bulldogs cut a nine-point deficit down to 67-63 with nine minutes left.

Sanders and Smith hit 3s on consecutive IUP possessions to make it 78-69 with 6:09 to go, and Webb and Kevin Stewart also dialed up 3-pointers on back-to-back shots, the latter giving the Crimson Hawks their first double digit lead of the game at 84-72 with 4:04 remaining. Webb scored nine points over the final 4:35, and IUP made all six of its free throw attempts in the final minute to secure the win.

Souberbielle came up with one of the most important defensive plays of the game, blocking a 3-point attempt by Byron Westmorland and then making two free throws after he grabbed a rebound on the next Bowie State miss.
The Bulldogs made four 3-pointers in the first six minutes of the game and built an 18-4 lead on a steal and jumper by Darren Clark with 13:22 left in the half. The 14-point deficit matched the largest of the season for IUP, with the first time ironically also against Bowie State in the regular season meeting. Smith hit a jumper on IUP’s first shot attempt of the game, but the Crimson Hawks missed four shots and committed six turnovers as the Bulldogs surged ahead.

Renkin, whose previous career high was 13 on two occasions this season, got the IUP comeback started when he converted a steal by Stewart into a layup and was fouled, making the free throw for a three-point play. Smith made three buckets, including a 3-pointer, and Willi Estrella made two from the free throw line at the 10:22 mark to cap a 14-2 run that brought IUP within 20-16.

Trailing 30-27, Sanders and Smith made 3-pointers to finally put IUP in front 33-30, and Renkin starred the rest of the half, scoring seven points straight points for the Crimson Hawks and his 3-pointer with 2:44 left made it a 40-34 lead. The cushion grew to nine twice before the end of the half before IUP took a 46-40 lead into the locker room.