Point Park beats Rio Grande in battle for KIAC North playoff positioning
Feb. 10, 2015
Yandell Denis had a career-high 22 points in the victory over Rio Grande. Photo by Chris Squier.
PITTSBURGH -- Point Park University men's basketball took the upper hand in race to secure a first-round playoff home game in the KIAC Tournament with Tuesday night's 79-68 victory over visiting Rio Grande at CCAC-South Gym.
Point Park (13-10, 5-5 KIAC) took sole possession of second place in the KIAC North Division, a position that would earn a home playoff game in the first round Feb. 24.
The Pioneers built double-digit leads in each half versus 17-game winner Rio Grande (17-10, 4-6 KIAC), which entered the game tied with Point Park for second place in the division.
Now the RedStorm will have to win all three of its remaining games and hope that Point Park loses all three of its games left in order to surpass the Pioneers and snatch back home court in the first round. The Pioneers lead Rio Grande by 1.0 game with three to go and also hold the 2-0 sweep in the season series given a 98-96 win on the road Jan. 7.
The Pioneers would welcome the sight of being home for the playoffs, if only for the first round. Point Park improved to 7-3 at home and 3-1 in KIAC home games with Tuesday's win. Conversely, Point Park is 4-7 on the road (2-4 KIAC).
Point Park's starters scored all but two points in the win. Yandell Denis had the offense flowing through him for much of the night, and the junior guard from Brooklyn, N.Y., put on a great display. He scored 15 of his career-high 22 points in the first half, and he had all four of his assists and all three of his made 3-point field goals the first 20 minutes.
The Pioneers raced out to an early lead as Denis hit twice from downtown for a 17-8 lead. Denis later slashed to the hoop for a 22-10 lead at the 11:13 mark, the largest lead of the first half.
After Rio Grande got back into it trailing 30-23 late in the half, Denis found Alan Heter with an excellent pass for a 32-23 edge. He later knocked down his third and final trey of the opening half to give Point Park a 35-28 advantage at the break.
Denis was not alone in having a productive night as all of the Point Park starters put up double digits. T.J. Lanier had 18 points, including a 3-pointer that pushed Point Park's lead to 57-40, the biggest margin of the night. That came at the 10:15 mark, although it was a later moment of Lanier's that brought the house down.
Lanier threw down a two-handed alley-oop dunk off a fast-break pass from Barry Smith, which put the Pioneers ahead, 66-54, and essentially put the game away with 4:17 left. Rio Grande had a fighting chance as Tyler Davis hit a trey to cut it to nine with five minutes left. But a 3-pointer by Lanier and then his dunk ended the hopes for the RedStorm.
Heter ended up with 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Jerah'me Williams, Point Park's leading scorer at 20.4 ppg, was held relatively in check for most of the night but finished with 13 points and eight assists. Williams hit four free throws in the final minute to ice the game and extend his streak of consecutive games scoring in double figures to 23, which is every game of this season.
Final starter Barry Smith chipped in 11 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Rio Grande held a decided edge in rebounds, 50-38, but was held to 33.8 percent shooting from the floor, the lowest percentage for any Point Park opponent this year. It was the first time the Pioneers' defense gave up less than 70 points all season and just the third time it held a team to less than 40 percent field goals.
Rio Grande, which entered the game ranking third in NAIA Division II in scoring average at 89.7 ppg, scored two points in the final seconds to avoid tying a season low for points. Point Park entered the night ranking fourth nationally at 88.1 ppg and won for just the third time this year when scoring under 80 points itself.
A big part of the Pioneers' defense was their seven blocks, which had two each come from Denis, Lanier and Heter. Point Park also grabbed nine steals, which accounted for most of Rio Grande's 12 turnovers.
Point Park has three games left, and it will play its only remaining road game on Saturday at IU Kokomo (7 p.m.). The Pioneers finish up at home Feb. 18 vs. Carlow (7:30 p.m.) and Feb. 21 vs. No. 23 IU East (12 p.m.).
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