Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Iup Paying Toll for Long Run of Success

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Iup Paying Toll for Long Run of Success

Article excerpt

Joe Lombardi isn't just imagining that there's a target on the backs of his IUP players - his opponents have flat-out told him so.

There was the coach at Bowie State, who told his team as far back as August they would get a chance to face a national finalist and perennial top-10 program. Even the coach at eighth-ranked Fairmont State told Lombardi his program had been looking forward to its matchup with IUP for two years.

Such is life when you're nine months removed from a run to the NCAA Division II championship game, a 77-62 loss to Florida Southern but the culmination of a 31-win season.

"Yeah, I think the target's there. I think it's big," Lombardi said this week. "I think coaches play it up and I think it's a disadvantage to the guys we have now.

"Teams that we're playing aren't playing last year's team, but they like to think they are and coaches like to make it seem like they are."

This season, the Crimson Hawks (8-5, 5-3 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) dropped three of their first five games but have won two in a row entering their holiday break. Since 2008-09, Lombardi's third season, they've won at least 20 games each year, been PSAC champions three times and never missed the NCAA tournament, reaching the championship twice.

But Lombardi's current team is the youngest he has had at IUP with two freshmen averaging more than 20 minutes a game and a sophomore playing more than 30. That has made it all the more challenging to live up to annual expectations.

"When you're a coach who puts a lot of time into player development, a lot of time into fundamentals, those things don't always kick in when kids are freshmen and sophomores," said Lombardi, who is three victories away from becoming IUP's winningest coach.

"You start paying dividends with those after they've been in the program for a few years, and I like to think that's a strength of our program. …

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