Point Park beats CCU to clinch playoff berth, will look for more on Senior Day
Feb. 21, 2014
Senior guard Gabe McNeal has exactly 1,000 points at Point Park with 22 on Friday. Photo by Sam Robinson.
WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. -- The Pioneers are in the playoffs, and now they'll be looking for more on Senior Day on Saturday.
The Point Park University men's basketball team clinched a KIAC Tournament berth with Friday night's 82-68 victory over second-place Cincinnati Christian at CCAC-South Gym.
The Pioneers (11-15, 6-10 KIAC) are now guaranteed at least the eighth-and-final playoff spot. But before the eight-team KIAC Tournament begins Feb. 25, Point Park will be looking to move into the seventh or even possibly the sixth seed with a victory on Senior Day.
Point Park plays the current seventh-place team Indiana East (10-19, 6-10 KIAC) on Senior Day at 1 p.m. Saturday. A win there in the regular-season finale would move the Pioneers up to the seventh seed. And if they get some other results around the conference to go their way, a victory over Indiana East could even mean the sixth seed.
That is a lot to play for for a team that was barely in the playoffs and appeared that it could be easily in or easily out of the playoffs at different times this year.
But the Pioneers got it together Friday night for perhaps their best game of the year in knocking off one of the top playoff seeds, Cincinnati Christian (17-13, 10-7 KIAC).
If anything, it was the Pioneers' most complete effort on both ends of the floor. There was plenty of offense with senior forward Nick Brown putting in 23 points and senior guard Gabe McNeal right behind with 22 points -- which gave him exactly 1,000 in his two-year Point Park career.
But perhaps more importantly, the Pioneers got it done on defense holding an offensively talented CCU team to 17 points below its season average of 84.8 ppg. The Pioneers even had defensive stops in crunch time, as evidenced by them scoring the final 11 points of the game, an 11-0 run that spanned the final two minutes.
McNeal, a 6-2 senior from Richmond, Va., became the 19th player in school history with 1,000 career points and just the ninth to do it in his first two years on campus. He buried a 3-pointer to give him 1,000 points exactly and give the Pioneers a 71-63 lead with 3:30 left.
But CCU got back into it with outside shooting of its own, and Mitch McLeish hit one of his five treys to get the Eagles within 71-68 with 1:59 left.
That's when Point Park senior Robbie Heatherington came up with some big plays. The point guard from McKeesport, Pa., drilled a long-range jumper to essentially seal the game, 74-68, with 1:30 to go.
It especially sealed things up when CCU missed a couple of free throws on its next trip only to have Heatherington pile on four free throws over two possession for an 78-68 edge with only 40 ticks left.
Senior forward Josh Pohlot added a couple more free throws before time was out to have him finish with 11 points. Heatherington ended up with 14 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, an 8-for-8 free-throw performance and his big 3.
Sophomore forward Matt Noszka finished with nine points and five rebounds as the Pioneers' five starters played all but 10 minutes. Point Park used only six players, and the starters dug deep to play the entirety of the second half without a sub coming in.
Tired legs didn't affect shooting the second half as the Pioneers shot 61 percent the final 20 minutes (14 for 23), which included 6 for 9 from long distance. Point Park shot 54 percent overall -- its best shooting percentage of the year -- and made 9 of 19 treys for 48 percent.
The Pioneers stretched things out to an eight-point lead of 49-41 midway through the second half when Brown hit one of his five treys. The 6-7 senior from Bristolville, Ohio, was 5 for 8 from 3-point land and scored on a variety of long bombs, jumpers and drives.
McNeal, who started the day needing 22 points for 1,000, was held to four points in the first half as the Pioneers held on to a slim lead of 32-30 at the break. But he heated up after halftime scoring 18 from then on.
Cincinnati Christian's inside players of Kenny Gaynor and Willie McKinney got going with 18 points for Gaynor and a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds for McKinney. But the Eagles' top two perimeter threats of Michael Hill (18.8 ppg) and D.J. McCommons (13.8 ppg) were held to nine and six points, respectively on a combined 5 for 22 from the field.
With the CCU perimeter attack never able to get going with the Pioneers keeping them in check, Point Park took control. The Eagles did ended up with 11 3-pointers, but they came on 31 attempts. McLeish saved face for the perimeter showing going 5 for 7 from deep as most of it was him from the outside.
Point Park will now shift its focus to Indiana East, which beat Point Park, 93-88, at home Feb. 1. The Red Wolves are last in the KIAC in defense giving up 91 points per game, and it figures to be a shootout once again.
Watch Live on the Point Park Sports Network -- Point Park vs. Indiana East, Sat., Feb. 22 at 1 p.m.