March 14, 2009

Courtesy IUP Athletics

Gerald Brooks had consecutive baskets to cap a 14-2 run that gave IUP a 10-point lead with less than four minutes remaining, highlighting his 20-point performance in a 69-63 victory over Virginia Union in the opening round of the NCAA Atlantic Region tournament Saturday at Gannon's Hammermill Center.

The seventh-seeded Crimson Hawks (22-7) will continue their breakout season with a regional semifinal game Sunday versus Kutztown at 5 p.m. The third-seeded Golden Bears advanced with a 99-88 win over West Virginia State in the other quarterfinal game in IUP's bracket.

Just two years ago the Crimson Hawks won only six games in the beginning of a rebuilding project under head coach Joe Lombardi and last year improved to 13 wins before earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament this season.

Brooks also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season and was joined in double figures in the scoring column by Julian Sanders with 14, Sean Christiansen with 11 and Darryl Webb with 10. Sanders hit four 3-pointers and Christiansen made three and also dished out five assists. Ashton Smith led IUP with six assists and Webb contributed eight rebounds and two blocked shots.

Gregg Thondique scored 18 points to lead the Panthers (21-7) but was held to two in the second half when IUP outscored outscored Virginia Union 41-33 to overcome a two-point halftime deficit. Lemoyne Williams had 14 points and Kyle Cook finished with 11.

IUP won its first NCAA tournament game since a 76-73 overtime win over Edinboro in the first round of the East Regional in 2005. IUP is in the regional semifinals for the seventh time in eight overall trips to the NCAA tournament and can move into the championship game for the sixth time with a win over Kutztown. IUP won regional titles in 1994, 1995, 2000 and 2002.

Trailing 30-28 at halftime versus Virginia Union, the Crimson Hawks gained the lead five times over the opening eight minutes of the second half but fell behind 46-44 on a 3-pointer by Jason Wansley with 10:43 remaining in the game. Just 20 seconds later, however, Christiansen connected from long distance to give IUP a lead it would never relinquish.

Webb followed with a layup off a steal by Smith and then tipped in a missed shot by Thomas Young to give IUP a 51-46 lead. Sanders hit a 3-pointer on IUP's next possession and, following a basket by Cook, Brooks scored on a pair of layups to extend the Crimson Hawks advantage to 10.

Virginia Union, a three-time Division II national champion, most recently in 2005, got within five at 61-56 on a free throw by Brandon Byerson with 1:28 remaining. But Brooks hit one of two from the line one second later and Christiansen and Smith both hit a pair of charity tosses in a span of nine seconds to rebuild the lead to 66-56 at the 1:02 mark to seal the victory.

With his 12th straight double figure scoring game, Brooks moved past Mike Matthews and into 19th place in IUP history with 1,083 points. He was coming off a career-high 32 points in the PSAC playoff loss at Slippery Rock 11 days ago.