UPG men hoping to make run toward AMCC postseason

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 11:00 p.m.

Sean Strickland, the men's basketball coach at Pitt-Greensburg, knows the feeling of being in an NCAA Division III tournament, having experienced a trip in 2009 as a women's assistant at Baldwin-Wallace (Ohio).

Strickland's team at the time defeated UPG in the first round.

Meanwhile, the UPG men's program has never produced an NCAA Tournament team, though the Bobcats won an Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference championship in 2000, a time when the league was not awarded an automatic bid.

In his third season as UPG men's coach, Strickland is hoping that this current team can finish among the top six teams in the AMCC and secure a spot in its postseason tournament.

After finishing outside the field of qualifiers in Strickland's first two years, the Bobcats (7-11, 4-7) had become legitimate contenders to reverse the trend, a game out of the sixth spot with seven regular-season games remaining, including two this week.

“I would love to see this team get a taste of the playoffs,” Strickland said prior to games Wednesday at Franciscan and Saturday at home against Pitt-Bradford, teams who trail UPG in the nine-team AMCC.

Following the loss of burly 6-foot-7 forward David Palmer, the co-player of the year in the AMCC in 2012, UPG has posted a 4-8 record that began with five consecutive losses.

Strickland said the team has had to adjust, but he's been encouraged by this recent play, which includes victories over then first-place teams La Roche and Mt. Aloysius in succession.

Of Palmer, who played just 15 minutes of a 10-point victory over Franciscan on Dec. 5 after a 22-point, 13-rebound effort in an overtime loss to Penn State-Behrend on Dec. 1, Strickland said only that “he's no longer with the team.”

Palmer remained enrolled at UPG, Strickland said.

“That's really all I am going to say about it. We've moved on,” Strickland said.

“We're young. You could see that in our last game.”

Following the victories two days apart against La Roche and Mt. Aloysius, the Bobcats were trounced Saturday by Penn State Behrend in a rematch, 76-45.

“To beat three of the best teams in the league in a row would have been a lot to ask,” Strickland said.

Junior guard Brock Witkowski was leading UPG in scoring with an average of 10.9 points per game. Freshman guard Rocco Constristano, a Keystone Oaks High School product who scored a career-high 30 points against La Roche, was at 10.1.

“He was like any freshman coming in,” Strickland said of Constristano. “He didn't play much early on, but he's really come on lately. He took over the La Roche game. I actually think he's the best freshman in the league right now.”

Strickland said he sensed a renewed attitude following the holiday break that began a month ago.

“We've been practicing better,” he said. “That carries over into games. Our goal is to make the playoffs. These next two weeks are going to decide the season.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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