ALTOONA, Pa. – #5 seed Hilbert College men's basketball overcame a double-digit deficit late in the second half of Wednesday night's Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Tournament first round game in the Adler Arena to defeat #4 Penn State Altoona 77-72.
Penn State Altoona (17-9, 13-5 AMCC) held a 70-60 lead with 5:25 remaining in the game, but Hilbert charged back to overtake the Lions' lead and hang on for the win. With the loss, Penn State Altoona is eliminated from the AMCC Tournament, while Hilbert advances to play top-seeded La Roche College this Saturday, February 24.
The Lions will now await word on a potential berth into the Eastern College Athletic Conference's Division III Championship Tournament, which opens next week.
"Basketball is a cruel mistress. Two weeks ago, we had this great comeback win at Mount Aloysius, almost in similar fashion to Hilbert tonight, and the basketball gods paid it back tonight," said Penn State Altoona head coach David McGreal. "We weren't able to finish on the offensive end, and we didn't finish on the defensive end."
One positive development in Wednesday night's loss was Ishimeal Nance's (Muscle Shoals, AL/Muscle Shoals) record-setting evening. Nance established a new Penn State Altoona men's basketball single season scoring record, surpassing the previous record of 493 points (shared by former Lions Kirk Peters and Javon Wilson) and finishing the night with 495 points scored this season. Nance added 12 rebounds in the game to record his eighth double-double of the season.
Dequan Jackson (Philadelphia, PA/Murrell Dobbins) led the Lions with 20 points to go along with six boards and two blocks. Rich Bouknight (Norristown, PA/Norristown) added 15 points and a pair of blocks, and Cameron Gardner-Nicholson (Philadelphia, PA/Boys' Latin Charter) grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds while tying for the team-high in steals with three.
Despite individual accomplishments, McGreal was not happy with his team's inability to close out a victory down the stretch.
"I gave my guys, and my seniors, an opportunity to be finishers. But when we needed a big shot, we didn't make it. When we needed a big stop, we didn't get it," McGreal stated. "The old saying is 'you've got to dance with who brung you,' and tonight, my seniors and the guys I count on just weren't able to finish it."
Hilbert (18-8, 13-5 AMCC) got a game-high 22 points from Masia Phillips, who also added nine rebounds. Hunter Martineau scored 16 points with nine boards and four assists, Tyler Aquilina added 14 points, and Antonio Alvarez had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
"Hats off to [Hilbert] coach Rob deGrandpre. I believe he's the coach of the year in the conference for everything that he's had to overcome, losing players for different reasons and again tonight playing shorthanded," said McGreal. "They never quit, and they avenged last year's tournament loss to us in a major way."
Penn State Altoona started the game fast before Hilbert settled in and tied the score by the intermission.
Jackson's slam dunk off of the opening tip set the early tone for Penn State Altoona, and layups from Nance and Bouknight gave the home team a 6-0 lead by 18:45, prompting a Hilbert timeout. Bouknight's layup at 15:48 helped the Lions to a seven-point lead, 14-7.
Hilbert responded with a quick 8-0 run to nab the lead. Layups from Martineau and Phillips made it 14-9, and treys from Alvarez and Phillips put the Hawks ahead 15-14 at 14:31. Martineau's three-pointer at 11:02 kept the visitors up 20-16.
Penn State Altoona bounced back to reclaim a 29-24 lead with 5:44 left in the half, helped by scores from Jackson and Bouknight, but Hilbert outscored the Lions 13-8 over the remainder of the opening half to knot the score 37-37 by halftime.
The Hawks kept things close early in the second half. Phillips' fastbreak score at 15:26 kept the score tied, 49-49. Just under a minute later, Aquilina's tip-in made it 51-51.
But Penn State Altoona used a 12-2 run to take a double-digit lead. The run was highlighted by Jackson's dunk at 13:17 that put his team up 58-51, as well as an Austin Krise (Allport, PA/West Branch) reverse layup at 11:54 that made it 62-53. Jackson's free throw at 11:27 set the Lions' lead at 63-53.
Penn State Altoona appeared to be in control over the next several minutes. Bouknight's transition layup at 10:44 kept the difference at 10 points, 65-55, and Nance's layup at 8:17 kept his team's lead at 10, 67-57. A layup from Gardner-Nicholson and free throw by Nance made it 70-60 with 5:25 to play.
But Hilbert rallied to outscore Penn State Altoona 17-2 over the rest of the period. After two free throws by David Arlaud, Martineau connected from three-point range, then made a fastbreak bucket at 2:27 to cut his team's deficit to three, 70-67. Phillips' layup 27 seconds later made it a one-point game, and his foul shots at 1:31 gave Hilbert a 71-70 lead.
Phillips' foul shooting was key in the closing seconds for Hilbert, as he went 8-for-8 from the line in the final 1:31 to help his team wrap up the win.
"We still have to be proud of the season. 17 wins at Penn State Altoona is an incredible achievement, but unfortunately we just weren't able to reach another goal that we had set, which was to get to a conference championship game," said McGreal. "We're very devastated, hurt, and broken by that."
Now, Penn State Altoona will hope to receive an invitation to be among the field of teams to compete in the ECAC Division III Championship Tournament. The ECAC participants and bracket are expected to be announced this Monday, February 26 following the NCAA Division III basketball selections. A first round ECAC Tournament game would likely occur on Wednesday, February 28, with the location and start time both to-be-determined.
"Now, we sit back and wait for the ECAC and see if we do get a bid. Hopefully, we can end the season with some positive vibes and get a couple wins in the ECAC," said McGreal. "I also just want to thank the fans, students, and student-athletes. What a great crowd tonight and a great atmosphere for basketball. I apologize to them for us not finishing."
Notes: Penn State Altoona senior guard/forward Nance was named the Lions' representative to the AMCC Men's Basketball All-Tourmament Team for his performance against Hilbert in the first round.