EVANSVILLE, Ind -- Devante Chance had waited his entire college career for this.
After Indiana (Pa.) defeated Tarleton State 72-68 on Thursday night in the semifinals of the DII Elite Eight Men‘s Basketball Championships to advance to Saturday‘s title game, Chance ran over to the spectator stands behind the team bench and pointed to his uniform. The fans cheered. He yelled. The celebration had begun.
Actually, that was one of the few times you’d find Chance near the IUP bench. He’s never on the bench. In two wins at the Elite Eight, he has played every minute. In fact, he has played every minute of the Crimson Hawks’ past four games. He missed just five minutes in IUP’s NCAA-opening win against Glenville State and that’s probably because it was a 20-point win.
He is the iron man of IUP hoops.
“I don’t even think about taking him out,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said with a hearty laugh.
Chance scored 14 points and had a team-high four assists in the Crimson Hawks’ semifinal win Thursday night at the Ford Center. He scored a team-high 17 points, including four free throws in the final minute of IUP’s 69-65 win against Azusa Pacific in the quarterfinals Wednesday.
Saturday, IUP will face top-ranked Florida Southern for the DII national championship. And you can expect Chance to play at least 40 minutes in that game. More, if it goes to overtime.
“It’s incredible. Hopefully he’s got one more in him,” Lombardi said. “It’s just become who we are and what we are.
“A lot of players, when they graduate, wished they’d have played more minutes,” Lombardi said. “He’s probably the only one I’ve ever had that didn’t say, ‘Boy, if I could have got more minutes.’ ”
Chance has played 1,404 minutes in 36 games this season -- 31 of them IUP victories. That’s more than 200 minutes more than backcourt teammate Shawn Dyer. Chance has played all 40 minutes in 13 games, and played more minutes than that in two overtime games.
“I’m just here to play. I love playing the game,” said Chance. “If I’m not tired, I definitely don’t want to get out. If I‘m not tired, I’m not going to come out of the game.”
“He plays 40 a lot. He’s a leader,” Dyer said. “That’s what leaders do.”
But it’s more than the minutes that have helped propel the Crimson Hawks to their first national championship game since 2010. Chance is a major piece in IUP’s three-guard lineup that also includes Dyer, who scored a game-high 20 points in Thursday’s win, and junior guard Brandon Norfleet.
“I’ve got two of the best perimeter guys in the country,” Lombardi said of Chance and Dyer. “They play as a core. They all played well together and played off of each other. … They don’t play for themselves. They play for each other.”
Florida Southern coach Linc Darner has taken notice because his team will face them Saturday, and the Moccasins thrive on forcing turnovers against their opponents.
“They’ve got very, very good guards,“ Darner said, “and it’s hard to turn over guards.”
The numbers back that up. Against Tarleton State, which had the nation’s third-best defense during the regular season in terms of points allowed, Chance, Dyer and Norfleet combined for 45 points and eight assists. In the quarterfinals against Azusa Pacific, the trio combined for 42 points and eight assists.
“We’ve been working and it’s starting to pay off,” Chance said. "We’re going to the national championship.”
The chase after a national title really began last summer when Chance was working out at a pace that his teammates couldn’t keep up with.
“I think we work as hard as possible,” Chance said. “Speaking for myself and Shawn, we’ve been waiting for this since the offseason of last year. We’re a veteran group.
“I’m telling you, this guy in the summer works three times a day,” Dyer said. “I remember, me and Daddy [Ugbede, junior forward], we’re up here at the [summer] camp and Daddy’s like, ‘Devante, he works out three times a day. I can’t do it.’
“And I was just like, ‘It’s going to pay off in the end.’ ”
And that would be Saturday’s championship game at the Ford Center. Prior to this season, the Crimson Hawks hadn’t gotten past the Atlantic Region title game during Chance’s career.
“As a senior, I wanted to extend it this far, to get it to the last game of the season,” Chance said. “It’s a daydream and I don’t want to wake up.”