Cal U men’s basketball: A recap of the team’s ’22 tournament journey as the season ends with Atlantic Regional Championship


Jeff Helsel

Cal U’s Philip Alston (1) finishes off of dunk in front of IUP’s Ethan Porterfield (11) and Armoni Foster (3) during the NCAA Atlantic Regional Championship, Kovalchick Complex, Indiana, Pa., March 15, 2022

Jonathan Sakaguchi, Staff Writer

March is upon us and that means March Madness is here, where anything and everything can and will happen. Cinderella stories are written, brackets are busted and underdogs rise to the occasion. That was no different for the 2021-2022 Cal U Vulcans men’s basketball team.

After a season of COVID rescheduled games, weather delays and long weeks, the Vulcans claimed a well-deserved home game in the PSAC Conference Tournament. The Vulcans drew the fourth seed in the PSAC West Division and would take on fifth-seeded Slippery Rock in the opening round. The Rock had beat the Vulcans at home seven days prior to the conference tournament. This would also mark the first time the Vulcans had a 20-win season since 2008.

Cal U was looking for payback. After a back-and-forth affair to open the game, Cal U broke the game open with senior Brent Pegram, junior Zion Collins and sophomore Phil Alston leading the charge. The Vulcans started to pull away from SRU as they went into the half with a commanding 42-33 lead. They ran away with the game with an additional 30 points in the second half. Collins recorded a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the 72-55 victory.

The Vulcans would go up Route 66 to take on archrival Indiana University of Pennsylvania for the third time this season. The Vulcans were looking to snap a 16-game losing streak to the Crimson Hawks. Cal U fell behind early with IUP jumping out to a 20-point lead early on and struggled to get back into the game. After a couple breaks and turnovers by the Hawks, the Vulcans battled back and cut the lead down to a one-point deficit and would go into the locker room down 35-34. Cal would storm back to tie the game and would even take the lead for a while. The Hawks would storm back into the lead by sophomore star Ethan Porterfield and All PSAC Player Amoni Foster to steal the Vulcans shot at going to the conference semi-finals for the first time since 2008.

The Vulcans would have to await their fate of if, and where they would land in the NCAA Regional Tournament for the first time since the Elite 8 team from 2008. In the previous week’s poll, the Vulcans were ranked third among the top 10 other teams that included four other PSAC teams and all of them were teams Cal U had previously played. Late Sunday night the Vulcans found out that they would have the third seed in the regional bracket and would take on regional rival Fairmont State.

Cal U would head to IUP for the regional tournament and would get the early match up as they would tip off the Atlantic Region. Cal had played the Fighting Falcons earlier in the beginning of the season and fell 95-92 but both teams had changed since that November matchup.

Cal U would go back and forth with FSU and even fall behind at one point. The Vulcans would rally behind Alston, Collins, Pegram and Preston Boswell but would only let it be a two-point lead for Fairmont. With some help from the All-Star freshmen Keith Palek and Bryson Lucas helping out on both ends of the court, the Vulcans busted the game wide open. The Vulcans would get out to a 21-point lead and would win 95-74. This would be their first win against FSU in the last four match ups and the first tournament since March 18, 2008, when they beat Millersville in the Regional Championship.

The Vulcans had one of their best games scoring and shooting-wise as they would tie a school record 95 points in a regional tournament game and season best 56% shooting from around the field and 43% from 3-point land. Alston led all Vulcans in scoring with 29 points and had his 19th double-double of the season and was one of four Vulcans in double digit scoring. Cal U would be off to the field of 32 after 14 long years.

The next day Cal U would take on bracket breaking West Virginia State University. WVSU beat 2-seed West Liberty, who was ranked second in the country at the time, 103-94 the night before. This would be the first time Cal U would play WVSU in over 40 years, but coach Sancomb, Boswell and Pegram knew the Yellow Jackets too well from their days at Wheeling University.

Cal U was off to a hot start going four of seven from the floor and 3-3 from behind the arc. The Yellow Jackets rallied in around Glen Abram and would go on a 21-5 run at the end of the first half and start of the second. WVSU would jump out to a 51-37 lead. The Vulcans began to rally after some highlight reel worthy dunks by Alston and Lucas. Cal stormed back to cut the lead to 54-53 and would go on a 12-3 run lead by Pegram who would lead the team in scoring with 18 points and played almost the entire game. With time winding down the Jackets went on a late 8-2 run and would cut the lead down to a one possession game with a late three-point try that was contested by Lucas the ball hit the rim and into the hands of Alston who would go celebrate with his team. The Vulcan would keep dancing their way into the Sweet 16.

Cal U would face off with the Crimson Hawks of IUP for the fourth time this season and the third meeting at the KCAC. These two have met in the regional tournament three times prior to this Atlantic Regional Championship match up (94’ 95’ 96”) with IUP holding a 2-1 record over the Vulcans. Cal U won the 1996 match up.

The KCAC would be filled with fans of both teams and the atmosphere was electric for this game. Both teams struggled early on. Three minutes into the game, the score was tied 0-0, until Palek opened the scoring and both teams would battle back and forth with the biggest lead of the night being four points that Cal U would get halfway through the first. Foster and Porterfield would lead the Hawks to a one-point lead at halftime with Cal U trailing 25-24.

IUP started off the second half with the ball and would capitalize quickly before Cal U got an 8-4 run to tie the game 33-33. Before another back-and-forth affair, Cal U would struggle in five of the last eight minutes of the game as Cal U would start to rally back with late buckets by Pegram. But it would be an uphill battle as Alston and Boswell would foul out. IUP would hang on to win 68-59 and advance to the Elite 8.

All five starters would finish with double-digit scoring. Alston would record his 21st double double–double of the season and would finish with 692 points, third all-time in a single season, and finished with 21 points per game, the highest a Vulcan has scored since 1993. Pegram finishes his Cal U career finishing seventh in school history in all-time scoring and the first player since 1996 to record 400 assists in school history

“I was thinking about how far this program has come in three years,” said Pegram. “Like coach said, we were dressing six players, not playing six, but dressing six players. It’s come a long way in that time. All I can say it’s been a blessing. It’s a blessing.”

The Vulcans would have two players voted for the all-tournament team in All Regional: Forward Phil Alston and PSAC First team Gaud Brent Pegram. Cal U would finish the season with a 23-10 record and now 3-4 all time in regional championship game.

“I wanted this for them [Boswell and Pegram],” said coach Sancomb in his post-game interview. “Brent has come in and helped with the program and got it back to almost a national level and getting Preston back after coaching him at Wheeling and after he spent a year on the dark side, we got him back and I can’t say enough about these guys. We’re going to work hard to catch the IUP’s, the Mercyhurst’s, the Pitt-Johnstown’s of our league. We are going to get stronger, win a conference title and a regional championship.”

Coach Sancomb now has a 4-4 record in NCAA Tournament Games and two trips to the regional championship game.