HAMBURG, N.Y. – Penn State Altoona men's basketball suffered a tough loss on Saturday afternoon, falling 84-82 to Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference opponent Hilbert College in the Hafner Recreation Center.
The Lions (6-14, 5-9 AMCC) came out on the losing end of a tightly-contested game that included 13 lead changes. Penn State Altoona clung to a one-point lead with 2:33 remaining in the contest, but Hilbert (6-14, 2-11 AMCC) overtook the Lions' advantage in the closing minutes.
"Gut-wrenching loss today. I thought we played very well offensively, besides the turnovers, but it just comes down to making stops and finishing plays when we need it, and we can't get it," said Penn State Altoona head coach David McGreal. "I feel honestly that I'm not doing a good job coaching my guys how not to foul. In the second halves of the last two games, both teams shot 20-plus free throws while we are shooting five. The other coaches must be doing a better job of coaching how not to foul than I do."
Jack Kusters (Quakertown, PA/Lansdale Catholic) scored a team-high 18 points for Penn State Altoona, including connecting four times from beyond the arc. Y'shua Bragg (Pittsburgh, PA/Carrick) produced 15 points off the bench to tie his season-high, and he also grabbed nine rebounds and dished out a team-best four assists. Robbie Hicks (Rockledge, FL/Rockledge) also came off the bench to score a season-high 14 points. Cameron Gardner-Nicholson (Philadelphia, PA/Boys' Latin Charter) secured a game-high 10 rebounds.
"Great efforts off the bench and by my underclassmen. Many times tonight, we'd have three freshmen and two sophomores on the floor, so I'm excited about the future," said McGreal. "The truth is, without Jalen [Archie-Davis] these last three games, and without Cam before that, we haven't had our full complement of players, and that's just ruined our season."
Hilbert was led in scoring by Masia Phillips, who put up a game-high 19 points. Nicholas Parucki scored 18 points, Ryan Hogan finished with 14 points, and Dre' Turnipseed chipped in 10 points.
Gardner-Nicholson's basket, Kusters' three-pointer, and Malcolm Martin's (Chicago, IL/Chicago Vocational) jumper helped Penn State Altoona get out to a 7-2 lead early in the game. Hilbert pushed back, surging to its largest lead of the game at the 12:06 mark when Phillips converted a three-point play to give the Hawks a 23-16 advantage.
Back-to-back three-pointers from Hicks and Kusters tied the score 33-33 in the late stages of the first half, and Hicks' layup at 3:51 put the Lions back on top, 35-33. Kusters' three-pointer and layup in the final 1:30 of the period helped Penn State Altoona to a 44-40 halftime lead.
At the start of the second half, Kusters picked up where he left off in the first half by nailing a three-pointer to open the scoring in the period. Tyson West's (Wheeling, WV/Linsly School) jumper at 16:57 capped an 11-5 run by his team to open the second half, giving the Lions a 55-45 advantage – their largest of the day.
Penn State Altoona maintained a modest lead over the next several minutes. Hicks' layup at the 10:13 mark kept the Lions ahead by eight points, 71-63. But a 12-4 run by Hilbert knotted the score at 75, with Turnipseed's layup at the 5:30 mark tying the game.
Free throws traded by Rogelio Christian-Olan (Orlando, FL/Life Christian Academy) and Parucki kept things tied. After a Joseph Braniecki free throw, Hicks' jump shot put Penn State Altoona up 79-78 with 2:33 to play.
But a pair of foul shots from Phillips at 2:14 put Hilbert back on top for good. Parucki and Hunter Martineau tacked on a total of four more free throw in the game's closing seconds to help the Hawks to the two-point win.
Penn State Altoona was hurt by 19 turnovers, which Hilbert converted into 28 points. The Hawks also posted a significant 27-9 advantage in second chance points.
Men's basketball will wrap up its Buffalo road trip tomorrow, Sunday, February 3, when the Lions take on Medaille College at 3:00 p.m.
"We'll keep fighting and get ready for the final five games and see what we can do," said McGreal."