STEUBENVILLE, Ohio – Penn State Altoona men's basketball notched its fourth win in a row on Wednesday night, staging a comeback to defeat Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference opponent Franciscan University 74-72 in the Finnegan Fieldhouse.
The Lions (6-10, 5-5 AMCC), who trailed by as many as 13 points and found themselves down by 10 at halftime, outscored Franciscan (8-9, 4-6 AMCC) by a 42-30 margin in the second half to rally for the win. Cameron Gardner-Nicholson's (Philadelphia, PA/Boys' Latin Charter) basket with nine seconds remaining broke a tie that helped Penn State Altoona to the victory.
"I'm just so proud of this group for continuing to grind and finish games even when we aren't playing our best. Franciscan is a very good team, and they shot the lights out in the first half," said Penn State Altoona head coach David McGreal. "A lot of that was because of our defense, but in the second half, we focused in on our game plan of limiting their best scorer, Sean Hickey, and pressuring the ball more, and that really frustrated them at times. Then, in the end, my returners were able to close the game."
The Lions' Jalen Archie-Davis (Norcross, GA/Norcross) continued his recent tear, tying for the game-high in points with 21. Gardner-Nicholson posted his team-best seventh double-double of the season, finishing with 12 points and 11 rebounds to go along with a game-high four blocks.
"I can't say enough about the way Jalen is playing right now. When he is in attack mode, he's tough to stop," said McGreal. "Big Cam didn't shoot it well from the free throw line, but he had huge defensive plays, cleaned up the glass, and ended the game with a put-back."
Franciscan was led in scoring by Joe Schriner, who tied Archie-Davis for the game-high in points with 21. Sean Hickey scored 14 points, Matt Trent had 13 points and 12 rebounds, and John Noce chipped in 10 points.
Franciscan got out to a strong start. After a pair of Kusters layups kept the score tied 4-4 early, the Barons went on a 9-0 run for the next three minutes that included three-pointers from Hickey and Justin Mack. Trent's jumper at 10:54 gave Franciscan an 18-8 advantage.
Penn State Altoona was able to trim its deficit to five points, helped by buckets from Archie-Davis and Kusters. At 7:48, Kusters' three-pointer cut Franciscan's lead to 22-17.
But Franciscan bounced back to reclaim a double-digit lead. Juwan Perkins' trey at 4:33 gave his team a 31-21 lead, and Hickey's three-pointer one-and-a-half minutes later made it 36-25. Schriner's jumper and Joe Vernau's free throw put the Barons ahead by 13 points, 40-27, with 1:38 left in the half.
Layups from Archie-Davis and Robbie Hicks (Rockledge, FL/Rockledge), along with Hicks' foul shot, helped Penn State Altoona bring Franciscan's lead down to 10 points, 42-32, by the intermission.
The Lions started the second half on an 8-2 run, narrowing their deficit to four points. Buckets from Gardner-Nicholson, Archie-Davis, Krise, and Kusters cut Franciscan's lead to 44-40 just under four minutes into the half. A layup from Y'shua Bragg (Pittsburgh, PA/Carrick) and free throw by Krise kept the difference at four points, 51-47, by the 11:14 mark.
Archie-Davis' three-point play at 8:19 cut the Barons' lead to three, 55-52. Krise connected from three-point range a minute later to make it a two-point game, 57-55. A pair of layups from Gardner-Nicholson closed the gap to one, 66-65, with 3:09 to play.
Penn State Altoona's push finally paid off with less than two minutes left in the game, as the Lions were able to take their first lead of the evening.
After Hickey's three-pointer at 2:19 gave Franciscan a little breathing room, increasing the home team's lead to 69-65, Krise got those points back on his layup and foul shot at 1:53. His three-point play brought the Lions back to within one point.
On the next Penn State Altoona possession, Archie-Davis hit a jump shot at 1:29 that put his team on top for the first time, 70-69. He added a pair of free throws at the 42-second mark to extend the Lions' lead to 72-69.
Franciscan struck back, tying the score at 72 on a three-pointer from Schriner with 23 seconds on the clock.
But Penn State Altoona had more late-game heroics up its sleeve. After Archie-Davis played the role of hero by scoring the go-ahead shot with one second left in Saturday's win over Hilbert College, this time it was Gardner-Nicholson's turn.
In the Lions' final possession, a missed jumper was rebounded by Gardner-Nicholson. The center went back up with a shot to score and give his team a 74-72 lead with nine seconds left.
Gardner-Nicholson's offensive put-back was part of a strong effort from Penn State Altoona in the paint, as the Lions boasted a 52-26 advantage on points in the paint.
"The young guys stepped up big. Y'shua and Jack had big games, and again, it was a full effort from everyone that played," McGreal stated. "Now, we have to stay focused and keep progressing as we head back to Buffalo for a really tough test against Medaille. I'm so proud of this group."
The Lions will look for another AMCC road win on Saturday, January 19, when they will travel to Buffalo, N.Y. to face Medaille College in a 4:00 p.m. game.