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Men’s Basketball Rallies for 96-93 Win in Season Opener

Men’s Basketball Rallies for 96-93 Win in Season Opener

ALTOONA, Pa. – A second half surge propelled the Penn State Altoona men's basketball team to a 96-93 win in the Lions' season opener on Sunday afternoon against non-conference opponent Washington and Lee University in the Adler Arena.

Penn State Altoona (1-0) trailed nearly all day, facing double-digit deficits into the second half. But the Lions outscored W&L (0-1) by a 56-42 margin in the second half, taking their first lead of the game with 2:24 to play and never looking back.

"Huge win today for our men's basketball program, coming back in dramatic fashion to beat a very talented, well-coached team in Washington and Lee from a great conference, the ODAC," said Penn State Altoona head coach David McGreal. "Early on, we had some jitters and felt the newness to college basketball for some guys in their first game of the year. We looked flat and looked a little lost and didn't do a good job on defense at all, but once we got into the flow and realized that we could play with those guys, we saw the momentum turn at the end of the first half."

PJ Charles (Altoona, PA/Altoona) posted a double-double for Penn State Altoona, scoring a team-high 25 points while grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds. He hit 8-of-11 shots from the field and also connected on nine of his 11 attempts from the foul line.

Varun Ajjarapu (Tampa, FL/Berkeley Prep) scored 16 points for the Lions, and Alex McClellan added 14 points. Robbie Hicks (Rockledge, FL/Rockledge) contributed 10 points.

Andruw Harman (Chesapeake, VA/Great Bridge) led all players in the game with two blocks to go along with nine points scored and six rebounds, and Saivon Word (Upper Marlboro, MD/Frederick Douglass) tied for the game-high in assists with seven.

"The momentum turned in our favor late in the first half with PJ finishing some really strong buckets down low. It gave our whole team a confidence boost going into the half," said McGreal. "Our three guards, Varun, Robbie, and Alex, played very well, all finishing in double figures. We still have a lot of work to do to get better on defense and rebounding, but I couldn't have been prouder of the team for pulling this one out on opening day with what I called the dirty dozen, the 12 guys able to dress for this game."

Robert DiSibio scored a game-high 26 points for W&L while grabbing 10 rebounds. Tevin Panchal scored 19 points for the Generals, and Jack d'Entremont finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

W&L took command of the game in the first half, helped by hitting seven three-pointers to work its way out to an 18-point lead at one point.

Leading 8-5, the Generals got two layups from DiSibio and another by Richie Manigault to increase their lead to 14-5. Three-pointers from Gus Wise and Panchal helped boost the visitors' lead to 22-10 by the 13:17 mark, and another Panchal trey three minutes later kept the difference at 12 points, 29-17. D'Entremont's jumper at 6:21 gave W&L a 39-21 lead, their largest of the day.

Penn State Altoona indeed began to build momentum late in the first half, cutting its deficit to 11 points by the intermission.

Ajjarapu's three-pointer, along with layups by Charles and Mason Bush (Pittsburgh, PA/Seneca Valley), made it a 14-point game, 42-28, with 4:41 left in the half. Two more layups from Charles and Word brought the Lions within 12, 44-32, and Bush hit a pair of free throws with 16 seconds left in the period to trim the Generals' lead to 49-40.

D'Entremont's basket just before the buzzer set the halftime score at 51-40.

W&L expanded its lead early in the second half, as D'Entremont's layup and DiSibio's three-pointer made it 56-42 just over one minute into the period. Layups from Mark Lamendola and Manigault upped the Generals' advantage to 15 points, 60-45, by 18:09.

Penn State Altoona responded with a 9-0 run to bring its deficit back to single digits, using a Charles layup and two free throws, a McClellan jumper, and an Ajjarapu three-pointer to make it 60-54 by 16:44. Casey Parkins' (Laurel, MD/Atholton) three-pointer at 15:11 kept the difference at six, 65-59, and Hicks' basket just over a minute later made it 65-61.

The Generals got their lead back to 13 points, helped by another DiSibio trey at the 11-minute mark that put the visitors ahead 79-66.

But the Lions continued to work at closing the gap, bringing themselves back to within single digits. Bush's layup at 5:04 brought W&L's lead down to three, 82-79, and Harman's bucket at 4:27 made it a one-point game, 82-81. After a DiSibio free throw, Hicks scored a layup at 4:03 to tie the score 83-83.

W&L used layups from Lamendola and Manigault to help get back into the lead, but baskets from Ajjarapu and McClellan kept the Lions within one, 88-87, with 2:50 to play. 26 seconds later, McClellan sank a pair of foul shots to give Penn State Altoona its first lead of the game, 89-88.

McClellan connected on a big three-pointer with two minutes remaining to increase the Lions' advantage to 92-88, and two free throws by Harman helped Penn State Altoona to a 94-91 lead with 15 seconds left. After Lamendola's score with eight seconds on the clock, Charles knocked down a pair of free throws to make it a three-point game again, 96-93.

A last-second possession by W&L came up empty, and Penn State Altoona clinched the season-opening win on its home court.

The Lions finished the game with a 54-36 scoring advantage in the paint while also leading 31-9 in fastbreak points and 18-7 in points off of turnovers.

Next, Penn State Altoona will prepare for its first road game of the season, as the Lions will travel to Huntingdon this upcoming Saturday, November 13 for a 2:00 p.m. game at non-conference opponent Juniata College.

"We have a week to prepare for Juniata, and I'm sure coach [Greg] Curley will be hungry after they lost to us two years ago," said McGreal. "This week will be all eyes on the Eagles. Go Lions!"