WCU basketball gets IUP in D2 NCAA Tournament 1st round

West Chester University head coach Damien Blair
Photo credit Scott Rowan
WEST CHESTER, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — The West Chester University men's basketball team is headed back to the NCAA Division II Tournament.

The Golden Rams are the No. 8 seed in the Atlantic Regional, and they will open up against the region's top seed, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, on Saturday in Indiana, Pennsylvania.

West Chester brings a 22-8 record into the tournament after advancing to the semifinals of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Tournament, where the Golden Rams lost to IUP.

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"You're always holding your breath because there's no telling what can happen when the selection committee is making a decision," said head coach Damien Blair. "But I thought we had a pretty good chance of getting in. I thought our strength of schedule was really good. We had some really good wins, the kids were playing really well down the stretch, so I think we were really confident that we had an opportunity to get in, and fortunately we did."

West Chester is in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in six seasons. Last year, the Golden Rams won a tourney game for the first time in program history, when they beat Wheeling Jesuit in the first round. 

Blair said having that type of tournament experience helps a lot.

"If you've never been there before, the travel definitely can take a toll on you," he said. "Playing against an opponent that you never have seen before can definitely impact your success. So the kids know what they need to do in order to be successful. 

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"Every team at this point in the season is a really good team, and you have to play extremely hard. You have to limit your mistakes, you have to be consistent and you have to do what you do well if you want to get a win."

IUP is 29-2 and the champion of the PSAC. This will actually be the third meeting between these two teams this season. In addition to IUP's 90-69 win in the PSAC Tournament, the Golden Rams dropped a hard-fought 80-75 regular season, meeting on IUP's home court in mid-December.

"They're very well-coached on both ends of the floor," Blair said of the Crimson Hawks. "We have to make sure we identify the shooters, stop penetration and we can't give them second-chance opportunities. We've got to do a great job of executing our offense, play inside-out, and when we get opportunities to knock down shots, we've got to make them."

The winner of this game will play the winner of Mercyhurst University and Fairmont State University in the second round.

The West Chester and IUP game gets underway at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

You can follow Matt Leon on Twitter @MattLeon1060.