ALTOONA, Pa. – In its home opener on Tuesday night in the Adler Arena, the Penn State Altoona men's basketball team picked up its first win of the season with a 79-63 victory against non-conference opponent Bethany College.
"Very excited to get a win right before the Thanksgiving holiday, which will obviously make all the turkey and food taste a lot better. I'm really happy that we were able to come to play after two tough road losses," said Penn State Altoona head coach David McGreal. "Getting back at home really helped – guys were more comfortable and played with a little bit more passion."
The Lions (1-2) corrected some issues that plagued them in their first two games of the season, most notably rebounding and defending the three-pointer. Tonight, Penn State Altoona was able to outrebound Bethany 41-29 while limiting the Bison to a 4-for-22 (18.2%) performance from beyond the arc.
"We still didn't shoot it as well as we need to in order to continue to win, but finally tonight our defensive effort was where we needed it to be," said McGreal. "We held the other team to only four made threes, whereas that was our Achilles' heel in the last two games. We really stressed that, and we were able to hold them to 18.2% from three-point range."
Austin Krise (Allport, PA/West Branch) tied for the team lead in scoring with 13 points to go along with nine rebounds and six steals. His total of six steals is tied for the seventh-most in a single game in Lions history. Shevelle Bailey (Titusville, FL/Titusville) and Malcolm Martin (Chicago, IL/Chicago Vocational) also finished with 13 points each, with Bailey adding five rebounds and Martin grabbing three.
Cameron Gardner-Nicholson (Philadelphia, PA/Boys' Latin Charter) recorded his second double-double of the season, scoring 11 points while securing a game-high 12 rebounds. He also led all players with three blocks.
"Hats off to the big man Cam on his second straight double-double. He really controlled the paint on both ends of the floor," said McGreal. "I think it was a balanced effort, with four guys in double figures. We also got lot of good performances off the bench, and that's what we're going to need to do to win consistently. We have a lot of depth, and we need to use it, continue to progress, and get better on the defensive end."
Bethany (1-4) was led in scoring by Allayasa Bray, who put up 13 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. Trey Shifflett added 12 points and four rebounds for the Bison.
Penn State Altoona got out to its best start of the young season, opening the game on a 21-4 run in the first 7:09 of the contest. Layups from Gardner-Nicholson, Krise, and Jalen Archie-Davis (Norcross, GA/Norcross), along with a put-back from Marshall Higley (Sayre, PA/Sayre), gave the Lions an 8-0 lead by 18:06. Later, Bailey's trey at 15:02 extended the lead to 18-4, and another layup from Krise and a free throw by Shandon Marshall (Brownsville, PA/Brownsville) made it a 17-point game by 12:51.
But Bethany found a way to get back in the game, using a 21-10 run to narrow the gap to six points with 5:44 left in the half. Three straight layups from Bray helped make it a nine-point game, 27-18, by 7:36. Trez Jones' jump shot and Carter Adams' three-pointer cut the Lions' lead to 31-25.
But Penn State Altoona gave itself a little breathing room before halftime. Y'shua Bragg (Pittsburgh, PA/Carrick) and Martin made layups to bring the Lions' lead back to 10 points, 35-25, with 4:13 remaining in the period. Another Marshall layup 21 seconds before halftime made it 43-31.
The Lions maintained their lead in the early stages of the second half, but Bethany continued to chip away. The Bison used three-pointers from Jones and Logan Wolverton to narrow Penn State Altoona's lead to four points, 52-48, by 12:40.
However, the Lions answered with a Tyson West (Wheeling, WV/Linsly School) trey at 12:27 and a Gardner-Nicholson layup at 11:23. Two free throws from Marshall put his team's lead at 59-48 at the 10:43 mark.
Bethany used two layups from Shifflett to get to within seven points, 59-52, of the Penn State Altoona lead by 10:13. Later, Adams' layup and foul shot at 4:20 made it an eight-point game, 67-59.
But Penn State Altoona was able to stifle any hopes of a Bethany rally when it needed to, answering once again to increase its lead. Bailey's jumper and Archie-Davis' layup gave the Lions a 71-59 lead with 3:52 to play. Gardner-Nicholson followed with a dunk, and another bucket by Bailey upped the home team's advantage to 75-59 at 2:15. The Lions stayed ahead by 16 points through the final buzzer.
The Lions finished with statistical advantages over Bethany in points in the paint (44-36), points off turnovers (32-15), second chance points (13-7), fastbreak points (24-4), and bench points (33-28).
Next up, Penn State Altoona men's basketball will travel to Georgia to compete in the LaGrange College Shootout. On Saturday, November 24 at 5:00 p.m., the Lions will face Birmingham-Southern College. Then, on Sunday, November 25 at 4:00 p.m., Penn State Altoona wraps up its weekend against Berry College at 4:00 p.m.