ALTOONA, Pa. – Penn State Altoona men's basketball used a solid overall performance on Wednesday night to halt its five-game losing streak, as the Lions nabbed a 79-65 victory over non-conference opponent Grove City College in the Adler Arena.
Penn State Altoona (7-15) was mostly efficient on offense, stayed out of foul trouble, and got key stops throughout the game. The Lions held Grove City (13-9) to just 65 points, the third-lowest point total allowed this year by Penn State Altoona.
"It feels great to get back in the win column. Guys played tremendously tonight on both ends of the floor against a quality, well-coached team in Grove City," said Penn State Altoona head coach David McGreal. "We were finally able to play 40 minutes of basketball, whereas we had been playing only 20 or 30 minutes of good basketball in our last few losses. Guys stepped up in the second half, we made stops when we needed to make stops, and – other than a few costly turnovers for a short stretch – we were able to make plays to finish the game."
Cameron Gardner-Nicholson (Philadelphia, PA/Boys' Latin Charter) had a big night for the Lions, leading all players in the game with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and six blocks, notching his eighth double-double of the season. His total of six blocks is tied for the third-most in a game in Lions history, and he helped the team finish with nine blocks, which is tied for the seventh-most in a game as a team.
Austin Krise (Allport, PA/West Branch) added 17 points while tying for the game-high in steals with three. Y'shua Bragg (Pittsburgh, PA/Carrick) finished just shy of a double-double, posting nine points and nine rebounds while tying for the game-high in assists with four.
Rogelio Christian-Olan (Orlando, FL/Life Christian Academy) added eight points, and Jack Kusters (Quakertown, PA/Lansdale Catholic) finished with seven points and four assists. Jalen Archie-Davis (Norcross, GA/Norcross) made his return for the Lions to score six points.
"Great effort by Cam, who came back to form tonight and finally looked really good. Also a great offensive and defensive performance by Austin, who shot the ball well and played great defense," said McGreal. "Also can't say enough about Ro, our super senior, hitting the two biggest shots of the night with two threes late in the second half. And what a blessing it was to see 12 [Archie-Davis] back on the floor. Just his presence gave the guys confidence and motivation to get back out there and get to work, and on top of that, he finished the game with four straight free throws to seal it."
Grove City was led in scoring by Joe Meola and Nate Peters, who finished with 12 points apiece. Justice Rice and Isaac Williams chipped in nine points each for the Wolverines.
Penn State Altoona got off to a hot start, building a 10-point lead midway through the first half. Krise's three-pointer and Bragg's layup helped the Lions make it 5-0 in the early going, and Krise again connected from three-point range at 15:16 to make it 10-4. Baskets from Kusters, Robbie Hicks (Rockledge, FL/Rockledge), and Gardner-Nicholson helped extend Penn State Altoona's lead to eight, 16-8, by the 13:04 mark. Christian-Olan's transition bucket and a three-pointer from Marshall Higley (Sayre, PA/Sayre) made it 21-11 by 11:38.
But Grove City rallied for a 14-3 run to get in front. Peters' three-pointer at 10:20 cut the Lions' lead to three points, and Erik Meiner's fastbreak score 18 seconds later made it a one-point game. Williams' three-pointer at 7:19 put the Wolverines on top, 25-24. A pair of foul shots by Rice kept Grove City ahead by one, 27-26, at the 6:44 mark.
Penn State Altoona responded with a run of its own, however, outscoring Grove City 9-2 for the next 3:44. The Lions' run was highlighted by two fastbreak layups from Krise, and Gardner-Nicholson's free throw with three minutes left in the half gave his team a 36-28 advantage.
Two more layups by Gardner-Nicholson helped Penn State Altoona wrap up the first half with a 40-33 lead.
Another basket from Gardner-Nicholson put the Lions up by nine, 42-33, early in the second half. But Grove City narrowed its deficit to 55-54 by 11:41, following a pair of free throws by Meola.
Over the next several minutes, the Lions nursed a modest lead, but Grove City continued to hang around. Another transition layup from Krise gave his team a 61-56 lead at 9:03, but Meola's basket brought Penn State Altoona's lead back down to 61-58 two minutes later.
But Penn State Altoona came up with some big shots and big stops, and the Lions began to put some space between themselves and Grove City on the scoreboard.
Christian-Olan hit from three-point range at 6:03 to put the Lions up by six, 64-58. Nearly one minute later, Krise nailed his third three-pointer of the game to make it 67-60. After a Gardner-Nicholson free throw, Archie-Davis' layup at the 3:29 mark increased Penn State Altoona's lead to double digits, 70-60. Bragg's layup just over one minute later made it 72-61.
Christian-Olan provided the dagger with 1:25 to play, making another three-pointer to increase Penn State Altoona's lead to 75-63. Four consecutive foul shots from Archie-Davis within the final 57 seconds of the game helped ice the win for the Lions.
Penn State Altoona finished the game with a few key statistical advantages of Grove City, including leading 48-32 in rebounds, 22-11 in second chance points, and 46-36 in points in the paint.
Next, the Lions will face their biggest stretch of the season, as they close out the regular season schedule with a trio of Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference games while fighting for a shot at a conference playoff berth.
"Now, we have to focus on the last three conference games and see if we can make a run as the sixth seed in the conference tournament," said McGreal. "If we play like we did tonight, we have a good chance of sneaking in. Please come support us this Saturday versus D'Youville!"
On Saturday, February 9, Penn State Altoona will host D'Youville College at 3:00 p.m. After that, the Lions play their final regular season road game on Wednesday, February 13, when they travel to face Pitt-Bradford at 8:00 p.m. Penn State Altoona finishes the schedule up at home on Saturday, February 16, when they go up against La Roche College at 4:00 p.m.