CRESSON - The Mount Aloysius men's basketball team has won five straight games, and, at 6-1 overall, finds itself in sole possession of first place in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference standings.
"We are off to a good start," Mount Aloysius coach Lance Loya said. "What makes it extra impressive, though, is that we are in the midst of arguably the toughest portion of our schedule."
The Mounties started their streak off with an impressive road win over Pitt-Greensburg. In that game, they held two-time conference Player of the Year David Palmer to just 12 points.
Mount Aloysius Lance Loya talks things over with his team during a break in the action during one of this season’s games.
Mount Aloysius followed that performance up with a 24-point drubbing of defending league champs Medaille College, and a 91-85 win at Frostburg State.
Their most notable win, however, may have been Saturday's double-overtime victory over AMCC perennial power Penn State-Behrend.
"Playing at Penn State-Behrend is always tough. It's an intimidating environment. The fans are enthusiastic and really in to it. The pep band is playing right by our bench, and it's so loud you can hardly hear yourself think.
"It's like the old cliche of anytime you play on the road you are automatically down 10 points. At Behrend, it's more like you are down 20 points to start."
The Mount Aloysius backcourt tandem of Jeff Stem and Altoona High grad Demetrius Davis combined for 55 points against Penn State-Behrend. Stem had 31 points, and went 5-11 from three-point distance. Davis scored 24 points, including the game-tying three-pointer that sent the game into overtime.
Stem is averaging a conference best 21.3 points per game, and was named last week's AMCC Player of the Week.
"Stem and Davis have been solid for us, but our success to this point can be contributed to far more than just those two," Loya said. "Our team has real some real synergy. We have the right mix of roll players, and just all around unselfish personalities."
Although truth may be found in the Mount Aloysius coach's words, there may be more to it. Mount Aloysius has been playing some very stingy defense. For the season, it is holding its opponents to a mere 37 percent field goal percentage, which ranks it number one in the conference in field goal defense.
The Mounties have also been triumphant in holding down individual scoring threats. They have held their opponents' top scorer below his season average in six of their seven contests.
They held Frostburg State's Christian Jackson -who dropped 37 points in the Bobcat's previous game against Virginia Wesleyan, the number one team in country - without a single field goal in the entire first half.
"Our team in general is getting after it on the defensive end, but we feel we have three players in particular in Dameon Turner, Kyle Baughman, and Davario Barksdale, who can defensively lockdown the other team's scorers," Loya said.
The Mounties have also had a plethora of unsung heroes step up on the offensive end this season. The most distinguished, however, is Forest Hills graduate Tanner Thomas coming off the bench to score a career-high 28 points in the Frostburg win.
"This is not necessarily the most talented team I have had at Mount Aloysius," Loya said. "But they play together as well as any team I have ever seen. And, as far as depth goes, I have yet to come up with a combination where one team dominates the other side when we scrimmage in practice. It is that evenly matched."
Saturday's win over Penn State-Behrend sets the Mounties up for another challenge on Wednesday when they travel to La Roche College, who was picked to finish second in the league this season. La Roche already has a win over Division II Clarion to its credit, and is 2-1 in conference play.
"I tell the players all the time, I'm easy to please but hard to satisfy. We have played pretty good so far, but it is still early in the season. I know we still have our best ball ahead of us, and I am not going to be satisfied until we stop playing good and start playing great. La Roche is going to be a test to see if we can keep moving in that direction."