BETHANY, W.Va. – Penn State Altoona men's basketball opened its 2019-20 season with a 98-95 victory over Bethany College on Saturday at the Hummel Field House.
The Lions (1-0) had an outstanding day on offense, producing 98 points on a 53.5% (38-for-71) shooting percentage that included going 13-for-26 from three-point range. Penn State Altoona's total of 13 three-pointers made is tied for the second-most in a single game in program history, and the team's total of 38 field goals made is tied for the eighth-most in a game in team history.
On the defensive end, Penn State Altoona amassed 11 blocks as a team, tying for the fourth-most blocks in a game in program history.
"Very excited for the way we were able to come out today and get this hard-fought victory on the road to start the season. Obviously, our early offense got us on track and put us in a position where we took the lead immediately on the first possession and held it for the entire game," said Penn State Altoona head coach David McGreal. "While the defense struggled at times – especially down the stretch – I believe that our early defensive energy gave us scoring opportunities off of turnovers and blocked shots. It got us into our offensive flow, and we were able to score in transition."
Robbie Hicks (Rockledge, FL/Rockledge) led the Lions in scoring, putting up a career-high 23 points on an 8-for-12 shooting performance that included going 5-for-7 from three-point land. Jack Kusters (Quakertown, PA/Lansdale Catholic) scored 17 points – including going 3-for-4 from three – and tied for the team-high in rebounds with seven.
"We've been really excited about the progress Robbie made coming into the season," said McGreal. "His added scoring ability, on top of Jack's ability to put the ball in the basket, gave us a good one-two punch tonight, and we're hoping that can continue throughout the season."
Austin Krise (Allport, PA/West Branch) contributed 14 points and four rebounds off of the bench. Cameron Gardner-Nicholson (Philadelphia, PA/Boys' Latin Charter) scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds, and blocked three shots. Andruw Harman (Chesapeake, VA/Great Bridge) finished with a team-high four blocks and tied for the team lead in rebounds with seven, and he added six points in scoring.
"Big Cam played pretty well offensively, and he was obviously key on defense by blocking shots and anchoring the middle," said McGreal. "Great overall support from the guys off the bench, including Austin coming off the bench after fighting an injury for the past week. We also got an all-around great effort by Andruw. It may not show up in his point total, but he was just a difference maker on the floor with defense and athleticism."
Trey Butterworth (Clarence, PA/Bald Eagle) led the team with six assists to go along with eight points. Nate Gillen (Johnstown, PA/Central Cambria) finished with seven points, Alex McClellan (York, PA/West York) scored six, and Bryan Acosta (Orlando, FL/Wekiva) registered five points while also securing seven boards.
Bethany (0-2) got 23 points from Dalton Hamrick to tie for the game-high. Derek White added 13, and Dylan Furlong scored 11.
Penn State Altoona opened the game with baskets from Hicks and Gardner-Nicholson, grabbing a 4-0 lead and never trailing the rest of the way. Three-pointers from Butterworth and Hicks helped make it 11-6 by 16:32, and Gillen connected from three-point range at 12:09 to make it 20-14.
Bethany tied the game 22-22 at the 9:29 mark, helped by a pair of layups from Khalil Wilson and another layup by Furlong. But Hicks' layup and McClellan's trey helped Penn State Altoona regain the lead immediately thereafter.
Kusters' three-pointer at 7:45 increased the Lions' lead to eight, 32-24. Butterworth's trey just over four minutes later kept the difference at eight points, 35-27. The Lions used Hicks' three-pointer with 37 seconds left in the opening half to set the intermission score, 43-35.
In total, Penn State Altoona hit eight of its 13 three-pointers during the first half, going 8-for-15 as a team from beyond the arc during that period.
The Lions' offense upped its production in the second half, putting 55 points on the board. Penn State Altoona started things off with layups from Hicks and Gardner-Nicholson, and Hicks hit another three-pointer at 17:57 to put his team up 50-41.
A layup by Acosta and three-pointer from McClellan put Penn State Altoona's lead at 10 points, 64-54, by the 13:27 mark. A Kusters three-pointer and a tip-in, put-back bucket from Krise made it 71-59 just over two minutes later. Krise's layup at 7:59 gave the Lions their largest lead of the game, 79-61.
Bethany battled back to make things close, putting 34 points on the board over the final 7:40 of the game. That was part of a 60-point second half effort by the Bison, ultimately making the final score a three-point decision.
Neshawn Brown's three-pointer at 6:09 trimmed Bethany's deficit to 10 points, 82-72, and Furlong's basket just under a minute later made it 82-76. A pair of three-pointers from Aiden Albert brought the home team back to within two points, 84-82, with 3:28 to play.
Penn State Altoona responded with a Kusters three-pointer, a Gillen jumper, and a layup by Harman to widen the gap to 91-83 with just under two minutes remaining. Krise's layup at 1:12 got the Lions' lead back to eight, 93-85. Gardner-Nicholson's layup with 40 seconds left increased his team's advantage to nine points, 95-86.
Bethany put nine points on the board within the final 23 seconds of the game, but Penn State Altoona was still able to hang on, securing its first win of the season.
The Lions' win at Bethany marks the team's first victory there, following tough Eastern College Athletic Conference Division III Tournament losses that ended two of the team's past three seasons. Additionally, it is McGreal's first season-opening win for the Lions since taking over as Penn State Altoona's head coach in 2016.
"Obviously, we shot the ball extremely well tonight, but we understand that's not going to be every game," said McGreal. "We have to get back to work to fine tune some things, especially on the defensive end, and continue to progress offensively. If we're able to put together more stops on a consistent basis on top of scoring the basketball, I think we will have a successful season."
Next up, Penn State Altoona men's basketball will host another non-conference opponent, Juniata College, for the Lions' home opener on Saturday, November 16 at 2:00 p.m. in the Adler Auxiliary Gym.
That game will be part of Mountain Lion Backpack Program Day. All fans who bring items to benefit the Mountain Lion Backpack Program, which aims to aid local school children in need, will receive free entry to the game. Suggested items for donation include granola bars, cracker packs, canned pasta, juice boxes, and much more. For additional information on the Mountain Lion Backpack Program, visit their website at www.mountainlionbackpackprogram.org.