STATE COLLEGE — Fans that attended the girls’ championship game at the Kiwanis Holiday Basketball Classic were treated to two different shows.
In the first half, Upper Darby’s Tyra Polite dazzled defenders — and the crowd — with a 20-point barrage.
However, State College and Taylor Allison stole the show with a 16-point comeback in the fourth quarter as the Lady Little Lions shocked the Royals 54-51.
“That was a great comeback,” said State College head coach Bethany Irwin with an ear-to-ear grin. “I’m so happy for the girls.”
Down 48-32 to start the fourth quarter, it’s hard to determine which was more impressive — State College scoring 22 points in eight minutes, or holding Upper Darby to just three fourth-quarter points.
But Allison had the answer.
“Coach came in at halftime and said we just had to step it up,” Allison said. “This was our tournament and our homecourt and we all rallied together and put pressure on the ball.”
“We got deflections and steals and they kind of collapsed under the pressure and we fed off of that,” the senior continued. “What really fueled our offense was our defense and our intensity.”
The Lady Little Lions held Polite scoreless in the second half.
State College began the fourth quarter with a half-court trap that stifled the Royals once free-flowing offense. And all eyes were always on Polite.
“We had written on the board that (Polite) was the one we had to stop,” Irwin said. “She shot amazingly. She was very confident and very smooth with her shot.”
“She had 20 in the first game; she had 20 on us at halftime!” she said incredulously. “But I don’t think she scored another bucket. We honed in on where she was at all times.”
Irwin even had her bench screaming out Polite’s coordinates on the court.
In comparison, it was Taylor Allison that the Royals had difficulty tracking. After Bridget King put back an Allison missed three to cut the lead under 10 (48-39) with five minutes left, a visibly frustrated Polite barked at her team.
But the Royals would turn it over again, leading to an Allison three in the left corner that cut the lead to 48-42.
The Royals defense was so consumed with stopping Kyla Irwin inside that King and Allison were routinely left open.
Irwin scored 18 in the game and joined Allison with All-tournament honors.
“Another big thing was that our guards started hitting,” Bethany Irwin said. “You can’t collapse the whole time if our guards are hitting because then we have an inside-outside game.”
King scored nine critical points by playing the high to Irwin’s low, including a foul line jumper that cut the lead to 50-44 with around two minutes to play.
Then Allison drilled a three from the top of the key and on the ensuing possession used an Irwin screen to tie the game with a three on the right wing with 1:42 remaining.
“It’s a play we run all the time,” Allison said. “I was wide open and I’m not going to pass up an open shot and to tie it right there was great.”
Although the senior tied the game at 50 with the three, it would be a sophomore that would give State College the lead for good.
Ali Treglia hit a short jumper from just inside the foul line with less than a minute remaining for a 52-50 advantage.
After Dominique Williams, who had 15 points, converted just one of two free throws with 51.7, Allison hit two more free throws to extend the lead to three.
Williams and Polite also earned All-tournament honors.
But Polite had one more chance for second-half redemption after an Allison turnover gave the Royals the ball with 20.8 left trailing by just three. However, her three from the top of the key banked off the glass, flirted with the rim but fell fecklessly as the final horn sounded.
“That last shot you just have to pray and keep your fingers crossed because that was close,” Irwin said. “We’ve closed a lot of good games in December 2012 and now we have to go into 2013 and keep moving forward.”