ALTOONA, Pa. – Penn State Altoona men's basketball nearly overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half of Monday afternoon's game, but the Lions ultimately lost 60-55 to non-conference opponent Chatham University in the Adler Arena.
While Chatham (8-4) led by as many as 13 points in the second half, Penn State Altoona (2-9) closed the gap to two points with just over one minute remaining in the game. But the Lions were unable to complete the comeback attempt, losing by five points.
"Disappointing way to end 2018. We're very happy to see the new year come, and hopefully it will change our fortunes," said Penn State Altoona head coach David McGreal. "I thought we played a very good defensive game, holding their top three scorers [Isaiah Brown, Alex Schoppen, Will Sandherr] in check for the most part. But Chatham is deeper than us with experienced players, and one of their seniors [Nasir Alexander] came off the bench to have one of his best games of the season for them. On top of that, we weren't able to put the ball in the basket for periods of time, and that put us in catch-up mode for most of the second half."
Jack Kusters (Quakertown, PA/Lansdale Catholic) scored a team-high 14 points for Penn State Altoona to go along with five rebounds. Cameron Gardner-Nicholson (Philadelphia, PA/Boys' Latin Charter) finished with a game-high four blocks and team-high 11 rebounds while scoring eight points. Austin Krise (Allport, PA/West Branch) also had eight points while securing six rebounds, and Jalen Archie-Davis (Norcross, GA/Norcross) scored eight points while dishing out a team-high five assists.
Nasir Alexander led Chatham in scoring with 17 points, while Isaiah Brown finished with 16 points.
Penn State Altoona led 9-7 in the early part of the first half, following Archie-Davis' layup and three baskets from Kusters. A layup from Gardner-Nicholson and free throw by Tyson West (Wheeling, WV/Linsly School) put the Lions up 18-17 at 9:51, and Archie-Davis' jumper at 7:11 made it 20-18.
After Brown's layup at 6:43 tied the score 20-20, Penn State Altoona used an 8-1 run to maneuver in front. Back-to-back jumpers from Malcolm Martin (Chicago, IL/Chicago Vocational) put the Lions up 24-20, and a layup from Richard Dei-Kwarteng (Windsor Hill, MD/Standard of Excellence Academy) upped the lead to 26-21 at 4:59. West's tip-in basket at the 4:28 mark gave Penn State Altoona its biggest lead, 28-21.
But Chatham bounced back to finish the half on a 12-4 run, grabbing a one-point lead by halftime. Marc Wells' dunk at 1:14 tied the score 30-30, and Buzz Walker's layup 18 seconds later made it 32-30. After two Robbie Hicks (Rockledge, FL/Rockledge) free throws knotted the score at 32, Sandherr put Chatham up 33-32 with his free throw at the 32-second mark.
Layups from Archie-Davis and Gardner-Nicholson started the second half on a positive note for Penn State Altoona, giving the home team a 36-33 lead. Krise's layup at 15:32 kept his team in front, 38-37.
But the Cougars reclaimed the lead on Wells' tip-in and Brown's layup that gave the visitors a 41-38 advantage by the 14:58 mark. The next four baskets for Chatham came courtesy of three-pointers from Alexander, including his trey at 8:11 that gave the Cougars their largest lead of the game, 53-40.
Penn State Altoona chipped away over the next several minutes. Kusters' three-pointer at 4:03 brought the Lions' deficit back to single digits, 56-49. Buckets from Krise and Kusters, along with a Gardner-Nicholson free throw, cut Chatham's lead to 57-54 by 1:37. Gardner-Nicholson made another foul shot at the 1:01 mark to make it a two-point game, 57-55.
But Chatham held the Lions scoreless for the rest of the game while tacking three foul shots on to its lead.
Penn State Altoona finished the game with statistical advantages over Chatham in rebounds (49-40), second chance points (14-12), and points in the paint (30-16).
"I'm proud of the way we battled back to give ourselves a chance to tie or win. But whenever we needed to make a big shot or big play, we just weren't able to do so," said McGreal. "Our focus going in to this game was to prepare for our upcoming stretch of conference games that we feel confident about. But we just need to continue to work hard and progress, and hopefully we can make a run in the next handful of conference games to get back in to the thick of things in the AMCC."
The Lions get back to Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference play this Thursday, January 3, when they host league opponent Franciscan University for an 8:00 p.m. game in the Adler Arena