Fourth Quarter Defense Helps Lady Lions Rally Past Bethany 74-62

Photo (by Alyssa Bender): Freshman guard Sarah Huston guards Bethany's Allison Kuhn during the second half of Saturday's game.
Photo (by Alyssa Bender): Freshman guard Sarah Huston guards Bethany's Allison Kuhn during the second half of Saturday's game.

ALTOONA, Pa. – Penn State Altoona women's basketball overcame a deficit through three quarters of play during Saturday afternoon's non-conference battle in the Adler Auxiliary Gym, coming back in the fourth quarter to defeat Bethany College 74-62.

The Lady Lions (2-2) trailed Bethany 51-48 by the conclusion of the third quarter, but Penn State Altoona used a strong defensive effort in the final period of play to rally past the Bison.

"I loved how we played in the middle of the third and the fourth," said Penn State Altoona head coach Casey Wilt. "Our defense started the shift from trailing to taking the lead and hanging on throughout the rest of the game."

Alexis Cannistraci (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) scored a game-high 16 points for Penn State Altoona while grabbing six rebounds and blocking two shots. Sarah Huston (Coatesville, PA/Coatesville) contributed 15 points – including going 8-for-8 at the free throw line – and four rebounds off the bench.

Sydney Snyder (New Enterprise, PA/Northern Bedford) added 12 points and a game-high five assists, and Finnley Christine (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) scored 11 points while tying for the game-high in steals with four.

Kaley Strittmatter (Williamsburg, PA/Penn Cambria) added nine points, and Paige Burk (Claysburg, PA/Claysburg-Kimmel) tied Christine with four steals and secured a team-best seven rebounds.

For Bethany (0-6), Kelsie Meintel, Courtney Walker, and Haylie Glass each scored 12 points.

Penn State Altoona was helped by finishing the game plus-17 in the turnover battle, forcing 27 Bethany turnovers while committing just 10 themselves. The Lady Lions' total of 10 turnovers was the fewest in a game by the team since last January 12, a span of 16 games.

Bethany opened the game by outscoring Penn State Altoona 7-2 in the first two minutes. The Lady Lions pulled back and eventually took an 11-9 lead at 3:41 on Cannistraci's layup, and back-to-back scores from Cannistraci and Christine gave the home team a 15-14 lead with 1:02 left in the period. A free throw by Meintel with 46 seconds left tied the game 15-15, and that score stood for the rest of the quarter.

The two teams battled through another even quarter in the second, with each squad putting 13 points on the scoreboard. Meintel's basket and pair of foul shots put the Bison ahead 24-20 at the 4:20 mark, but three-pointers from Christine and Snyder got Penn State Altoona back on top, 26-25, with 1:14 to go in the half. Glass' layup and foul shot with 24 seconds left gave Bethany a brief 28-26 lead, but Huston's free throws with four seconds on the clock tied the score 28-28.

Bethany threatened to pull away midway through the third quarter, only to have Penn State Altoona close the gap to a one possession game by period's end. Three-pointers on consecutive possessions by Walker and Abbey Dobbins helped Bethany to a 41-32 lead by the 5:35 mark.

But Huston's three-pointer at 3:24 cut Bethany's lead to six, 43-37, and Strittmatter converted on a three-point play at 1:04 to trim her team's deficit to three, 48-45. Bethany came back with a three-pointer by Allison Kuhn, but Snyder answered with a trey of her own to make it 51-48 by the end of the third.

"Sarah was our defensive game changer. Her intensity on defense created chaos and made Bethany uncomfortable," said Wilt. "Strong defense led to a beautiful transition score from Syd to Kay late in the third quarter."

Penn State Altoona took advantage of a pair of Bethany turnovers early in the fourth, as Snyder and Huston teamed up for back-to-back layups off of turnovers to give the Lady Lions a 52-51 lead less than a minute into the quarter.

"How about that behind-the-back pass from Syd to Sarah in transition? That was pretty sweet," Wilt remarked. "The two of them kept it rolling for us offensively. Their two backdoor scores couldn't have come at a more perfect time."

The Lady Lions did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the quarter. Buckets by Cannistraci and Snyder increased Penn State Altoona's advantage to 56-51 by 7:45, and scores from Alivia Borlie (Belsano, PA/Bishop Carroll) and Burk made it 60-55 by 6:27.

Bethany got back to within one, 60-59, following a pair of Meintel free throws at 4:26, but a Kassidy Sorichetti (Halifax, PA/Halifax) converted on a three-point play at 4:18 to get her team's lead back to four points, 63-59. Cannistraci and Borlie followed with scores to make it 67-59 by 2:13.

Huston's layup at 1:24 gave Penn State Altoona a 69-62 lead, and Christine, Huston, and Cannsitraci combined to go 5-for-6 from the foul line within the final 50 seconds of the game to help ice the Lady Lions' win.

The Lady Lions' 26-11 fourth quarter was powered by a defensive effort that limited Bethany to an 18.8 percent (3-for-16) performance from the floor while also forcing seven turnovers. Penn State Altoona also took advantage of driving to the basket during the fourth quarter, going 10-for-12 on shots inside three-point range.

"We continued to find success when we attacked the basket," said Wilt. "I don't typically tell them to stop shooting, but tonight I had to tell them to lay off the threes, because we weren't hitting. Our success was on the inside and from transition points."

Penn State Altoona led Bethany in points off turnovers (31-10) and fastbreak points (16-2).

Next, the Lady Lions will travel for their first Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference game of the season at La Roche University on Tuesday, November 26.

"We have a big game coming up on Tuesday. In order for us to win, we need that defensive presence to show up from the start and remain," Wilt stated. "I'm glad we are entering conference play on a win. Bethany certainly challenged us from the start."

Tipoff for Tuesday's game in Pittsburgh is scheduled for 8:00 p.m.