ALTOONA, Pa. – Penn State Altoona men's basketball picked up a big Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference victory on Saturday afternoon when it defeated Hilbert College 95-89 in the Adler Arena.
The Lions (11-6, 7-3 AMCC), who extended their home AMCC winning streak to 10 games, got out to a big lead in the first half before holding off Hilbert's comeback attempt in the second half to win.
"We're excited to get another conference win at home to continue our winning streak of home conference games. Not losing at home is something that's important to us and something we talk about a lot, and we were able to get it done again this afternoon," said Penn State Altoona head coach David McGreal. "You've got to give a ton of credit to Hilbert and its coaching staff for continuing to battle and fight and really make us sweat it out down the stretch."
Ishimeal Nance (Muscle Shoals, AL/Muscle Shoals) led the way for Penn State Altoona, putting up a game-high 27 points to go along with seven rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Dequan Jackson (Philadelphia, PA/Murrell Dobbins) added 21 points and three steals, and Rich Bouknight (Norristown, PA/Norristown) posted 19 points and five boards.
Andrew Gal (Malvern, PA/Great Valley) added nine points on a trio of three-pointers, and Cameron Gardner-Nicholson (Philadelphia, PA/Boys' Latin Charter) led the Lions with 10 rebounds and five blocks while scoring eight points. Jalen Archie-Davis (Norcross, GA/Norcross) dished out 11 assists, tying for the third-most assists in a single game by a Lions player in program history.
Nicholas Parucki led Hilbert (11-6, 8-3 AMCC) in scoring with 26 points, while Antonio Alvarez recorded a double-double, scoring 20 points to go with a game-high 19 rebounds. Hunter Martineau finished with 15 points and 14 assists, and Masia Phillips added 14 points.
For the second game in a row, Penn State Altoona came out of the gates on fire, as the Lions started Saturday's game on a 13-0 run. Gardner-Nicholson's layup and Bouknight's three-pointer opened the scoring, and Jackson's fastbreak dunk at 18:13 made it 7-0. Gardner-Nicholson followed with another basket at 18:01 before a pair of transition buckets from Jackson upped Penn State Altoona's lead to 13 points by the 15:48 mark.
"Just like Wednesday night, I thought we had a great start," said McGreal. "Guys came out and followed the game plan perfectly, turned them over, got out and ran, and were able to limit Hilbert's opportunities. I'm really proud of the way the team started."
Hilbert did not get on the scoreboard until Alvarez's layup at 15:23, but that score sparked a 15-0 run by the visitors that put the Hawks ahead by the 12:21 mark. Parucki's three-pointer at 13:02 tied the score 13-13 before his layup less than a minute later gave Hilbert the two-point lead.
Parucki's layup, Alvarez's jumper, and Tyler Aquilina's three-pointer extended Hilbert's lead to six, 22-16, by 10:55.
But Penn State Altoona broke out of its slump to outscore the Hawks 38-15 over the remainder of the half and carry a 17-point lead into the intermission.
Nance's three-pointer at 7:04 erased Hilbert's lead, putting the Lions back on top 25-23. Bouknight and Nance each hit threes over the next minute, and Jackson's fastbreak layup at 5:12 gave Penn State Altoona a 10-point lead, 33-23. Back-to-back transition scores from Archie-Davis and Jackson extended the Lions' lead to 11 points, 41-30, by the 2:43 mark.
After that, Penn State Altoona used some exciting plays to get momentum fully on its side by the end of the first period. Gal's three-pointer at 2:20 made it 44-32, and he connected from beyond the arc again at 1:40 to make it 47-35. Jackson's dunk at 1:16 and a tip-in by Austin Krise (Allport, PA/West Branch) with 37 seconds to go put the Lions up by 16 points, 51-35. Penn State Altoona put an exclamation mark on its first half performance when Gal hit from three-point range a third time, beating the first half buzzer to help his team go into the locker room ahead 54-37.
"After we allowed them to get back in the game and take a short lead, we got refocused and got back to what we were doing well, and we were able to get that important lead going into halftime," stated McGreal. "Definitely have to mention Andrew Gal, which gets limited minutes but really seized his opportunity toward the end of the first half. He gave us a huge boost going into halftime, and he was a huge reason why we had the big lead going into the half. I couldn't be prouder of him for stepping up when his name was called."
Early in the second half, the Lions were able to increase their lead to a game-high 20 points. Nance's layup and three-pointer preceded Jackson's basket at 17:15 that put the home team up 61-41, and Gardner-Nicholson's put-back bucket at 16:46 kept the difference at 20, 63-43.
But Hilbert awoke, going on a 20-3 run that put them back in the game. Alvarez's tip-in at 12:59 brought the Hawks' deficit back to single digits, 64-55, and a layup from Parucki and three-pointer by Aquilina narrowed it to 66-63 at 10:52.
The Hawks continued to hang around later in the half. Martineau's trey at 7:56 cut Penn State Altoona's lead to one, 69-68. Hilbert stayed within one point of the Lions, making it 74-73 on Parucki's three-pointer at 6:54 and 76-75 on his jump shot at 6:02.
But despite Hilbert keeping things close, Penn State Altoona never relinquished its lead in the closing minutes of the game. Bouknight's three-pointer at 5:55 and Nance's trey at 5:06 helped the Lions get back to a five-point lead, 82-77. Another fastbreak dunk from Jackson at 4:19 made it a seven-point game, and Bouknight's score at 2:45 put Penn State Altoona ahead 88-79. Nance's three-pointer at 1:23 kept the home squad up by nine, 91-82.
Hilbert got back to within four points of Penn State Altoona's lead when Phillips hit a jumper with 21 seconds on the clock that cut the Lions' advantage to 93-89. But the clock ran out on the Hawks, and Penn State Altoona secured the conference win.
"The second was a half of runs. They went on their run, and we went on our run, and we were able to send them off down the stretch," said McGreal. "I thought our top guys really stepped up down the stretch. Ish and DJ made plays on the offensive end, and Cam solidified the paint when Hilbert was hurting us on offensive rebounding. Rich helped us by really making big plays down the stretch, including a big three-pointer and two free throws to help us seal the win."
Penn State Altoona used its up-tempo style to its advantage against Hilbert, outscoring the Hawks 24-6 in fastbreak points.
Next, after a full week off, the men's basketball team will hit the road for back-to-back conference games next weekend in Buffalo, N.Y. The Lions will play defending AMCC champion Medaille College on Saturday, January 27 before going up against D'Youville College on Sunday, January 28. Both games are scheduled to tip off at 1:00 p.m.
"Now we focus on a big road stretch, including a doubleheader in Buffalo next weekend," said McGreal. "We have to figure out a way to take our effort at home and bring it on the road with us."