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Second-half surge key for Lions

Penn State Altoona men’s basketball coach Dave McGreal wasn’t happy about the lack of enthusiasm from the crowd when the Lions went into halftime up, 29-26, after scratching and clawing back into the game late in the first half.

By the end of the night, those same fans had the Adler Athletic Complex rocking as Penn State Altoona’s offense came alive for 41 points in the second half. Sophomore Robbie Hicks scored 20 points that all came in the final 20 minutes to help close out conference rival Mount Aloysius, 70-64, in an Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference game Wednesday night.

Hicks said the Lions didn’t have the best night shooting, as was evident from him being held off the board the first 20 minutes, and the Lions only shooting 31.3 percent from the field for the game. However, the defensive effort helped keep Penn State Altoona in the game.

“It wasn’t the best shooting game, but we had to pick it up on defense,” Hicks said. “It wasn’t the best offensive game but as long as we got the ‘W’ … we’ve got to be better on the offensive end, but it got us the win tonight.”

“It was very nerve-wracking, to say the least,” McGreal said afterward. “Up until our last game against Alfred State, we had been out-scored in the second half by every team we played, even in our wins. For whatever reason, we hadn’t been finishing games and playing the full 40 minutes.”

“So after we lost to (Pitt)-Greensburg, same thing, up at halftime and lost in the second half, we had a meeting and talked about being able to play for 40 minutes and continue to play in the system, especially on the defensive end, and I think it’s helped.”

One person the Lions’ improved defensive efforts couldn’t slow down was Mountie senior guard Nate Christian. The AMCC’s leading scorer netted 22 points to keep up his season-average of 20.3 ppg. He also had a double-double with 15 rebounds. Julian Stover also scored 17 points for the Mounties.

“Against a team that plays the way Mount does — they control the clock, take a lot of time off the shot clock, they get good shots for their best players, and we were able to just put together enough stops.”

The game had six ties and nine lead changes, including a 62-62 tie with under a minute remaining in regulation.

Lions sophomore Andruw Harman made a foul shot to put the Lions up three, but Hicks ended up being called for his only foul of the game on a Christian 3-point attempt, leading to three made foul shots for the Mounties to knot things up.

Harman had four of his 10 points in the final minute of the game, including a steal and score with 19 seconds remaining to put the Lions up two possessions and the game on ice.

In addition to Hicks and Harman, Lions senior center Cameron Gardner-Nicholson scored 15 points and grabbed 12 total rebounds for a double-double along with five blocks. Sophomore guard Jack Custers had 18 points and seven rebounds.

McGreal said the future looks bright with Harman, Hicks, Jack all being sophomores and already making major contributions to the team.

“(Andruw) when I recruited him, I just knew that he was a hell of an athlete,” McGreal said. “And the way he’s turned that athleticism into becoming one of the better defenders and rebounders in the league, it showed tonight. His effort on the defensive end, even though Nate (Christian) scored, he worked for every bucket.”

McGreal said being able to get a win over Mount Aloysius after dropping those last two games, and losing back-to-back games to the Mounties last season felt good for the Lions, who host D’Youville on Saturday at 1 p.m. before closing out the season at the Shenandoah Shootout.

“Nate Christian is a hell of a player, and this team is going to be there at the end when it’s all said and done in this conference, once (Mount Aloysius) gets fully healthy,” McGreal said. “So being able to beat them after two losses in a row to them last year, it felt good.”

Mountie coach Will Cabrera didn’t mince words when asked about the performance of his squad that was picked to finish second in the AMCC going into the season and heading into Wednesday night was considered one of the league’s top defensive squads.

“They plain-and-simple out-played us,” Cabrera said. “We are a defensive-minded team. We’re a top-20 team defensivley, the number one defensive team in the league, and we did not show up tonight. Period. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. That’s who we are. We’re not a good offensive team; we’re a terrible offensive team. We’re a good defensive team and they beat our tails.”

Mount Aloysius will head to Penn State Behrend on Saturday before returning home on Dec. 18 for a clash with La Roche to close out the 2019 calendar year.

MOUNT ALOYSIUS (64): Stover 5-12 7-10 17, Urena 2-5 0-0 4, McErlane 3-7 2-2 11, Britt 0-4 0-0 0, Quarcoo 1-7 0-0 2, Christian 7-16 6-7 22, Amadou 1-5 0-0 2, Palacio 2-11 0-0 6. Totals — 21-67 15-19 64.

PENN STATE ALTOONA (70): Gardner-Nicholson 7-10 1-6 15, Harman 4-7 2-4 10, Kusters 7-17 1-1 18, Butterworth 1-4 0-0 2, Hicks 6-19 7-7 20, Krise 2-6 0-0 5, McClellan 0-3 0-0 0, Acaosta 0-0 0-0 0, Gillen 0-4 0-0 0, Scott 0-3 0-1 0, Campbell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals — 27-73 11-19 70.

Halftime: 29-26 Penn State Altoona. 3-point goals: Mount Aloysius 7 (McErlane 3, Quarcoo, Christian 2); Penn State Altoona 5 (Kusters 3, Hicks, Krise). Assists: Mount Aloysius 4 (McErlane, Britt, Quarcoo, Christian); Penn State Altoona 9 (Harman, Kusters 2, Butterworth 2, Hicks, Acosta 3). Rebounds: Mount Aloysius 43 (Stover 5, Urena 1, McErlane 4, Britt 1, Quarcoo 15, Christian 1, Amadou 3, Palacio 7, Team 6); Penn State Altoona 54 (Gardner-Nicholson 12, Harman 6, Kusters 7, Butterworth 3, Hicks 4, Krise 2, McClellan 1, Acosta 3, Gillen 4, Scott 5, Campbell 4, Team 4).

Records: Mount Aloysius (4-4, 1-2 AMCC); Penn State Altoona (3-2, 2-2 AMCC).

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