Seton Hill women continue surge, beat UPJ in PSAC Tournament
Momentum is an intangible yet palpable thing in basketball. But it can go for miles.
Need proof? Look no further than the Seton Hill women’s team.
After leaving a trail of upsets on the end of their regular-season schedule, the Griffins carried their late-year surge into the PSAC Tournament.
The conference scene-stealers, who upset No. 8 IUP and No. 17 Cal (Pa.) in a four-day span, opened with an 80-64 victory over visiting Pitt-Johnstown on Monday night at McKenna Center.
“It’s literally the week of a lifetime,” Seton Hill coach Mark Katarski said. “Duke and UConn don’t get to play two nationally ranked teams in a week. I genuinely think this group doesn’t want their season to end. … They want to keep it going, and that goes a long way this time of year.”
With their 3-pointers falling — they have coined the hashtag #3eton Hill to fit their fire-away style — the No. 4-seeded Griffins (19-10) held off a second-half push from fifth-seeded UPJ (13-16) to advance to the quarterfinals for the second year in a row.
The Griffins made 14 of 30 3-pointers and had four players score in double figures, led by graduate student and PSAC West Athlete of the Week Megan Marecic with 22 points and five 3s.
Marecic has a school-record 95 3s this season, seventh-most in conference history.
Five players hit at least two 3s on this night for the Griffins, who have won four in a row.
“We love our threes,” Marecic said. “It’s all about sticking together.”
Sophomore Katie Nolan added 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, sophomore guard Courtney Cecere had 14 points and junior guard Lexi Civittolo chipped in 10.
Seton Hill will play at top-seeded IUP (23-3) at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The highest remaining seed following the quarterfinals will host the semifinals and finals Saturday and Sunday.
Katarski was pleased with how the Griffins responded to the game slowing down and becoming more physical.
“Playing ugly can be a good thing,” he said. “In many ways, our offense feeds our defense. Most traditional coaches would say it’s the other way around. As we make shots we get a little more engaged. Our group played really well. Our group showed such mettle.”
Seton Hill built a 12-point lead by halftime at 42-30.
After getting outscored 20-11 in the third quarter, the Griffins raced past the Mountain Cats in the fourth, 27-14.
With Marecic guarded more tightly in the second half, UPJ tightened the gap, but Seton Hill showed its scoring depth as several other players calmly picked up the slack.
Redshirt freshman Tiana Stewart added nine points, all on three 3s, and sophomore Cheyenne Trest scored all eight of her points in the fourth when the Griffins stretched a precarious, one-point lead back to 14 (73-59) with four minutes to play.
“It takes a team effort, especially over 29 or 30 games,” Katarski said. “That’s the case for us. And no offense to anybody, but if you give us 30 3s, we’re going to make some. Rhythm 3s in transition is good for us.”
Trest hit two 3s and Stewart another during the pull-away surge.
“We looked at each other like, ‘this isn’t going to happen,’ “ said Marecic, who had considered coaching with the Griffins when she came to Greensburg after graduating from Drexel, then opted to play one more year. “We had our run early on. We knew they were going to get their run, and they did. It was like, it’s our turn now, we took hold of that and went with it.”
After Tori Moreland converted a three-point play to make it 60-57, the Griffins went on a 13-2 run to push the advantage back to double figures, all the while speeding up the pace again.
Marecic, who also had seven rebounds and five assists, had 19 points on 7 of 9 shooting in the first half. She had five of the Griffins’ nine 3s before the break.
UPJ juniors Gabby Smith and Alli McGrath kept the Mountain Cats close for a spell with a strong third quarter rally that spilled into the fourth.
“They’re plenty good,” Katarski said. “They have two of the best players in our league.”
Seton Hill led by 17 in the second quarter but saw the margin shrink to three (53-50) by the end of the third.
McGrath, who had 22 points and seven rebounds, scored 13 in the third. Her two free throws to start the fourth made it 53-52 but UPJ never was able to take the lead.
Smith finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds but managed just two points in the fourth.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .