State College senior Tommy Sekunda emerged from the locker room, eyes red with emotion, after his team fell just short in the second round of the PIAA Class 6A tournament Thursday night.
Sekunda and his teammates battled Butler to overtime, but saw their season end with a 53-50 loss at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown.
Though Sekunda was feeling down shortly after the game, he said he couldn’t have asked for a better senior year.
“I love that team over in the locker room over there, every single one of those guys,” Sekunda said, looking back and pointing to the locker room behind him. “The times we shared and the things we’ve done, wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
The Little Lions enjoyed a banner season, capturing the program’s first-ever Mid Penn championship, winning the District 6 championship and earning State College’s first state playoff win since 2009.
Sekunda scored 14 points for State College (21-5), Ryan McNulty added 11 and Drew Friberg finished with 10.
The Little Lions overcame a nine-point deficit in the third quarter and forced overtime, but Butler earned the win, thanks to a pair of free throws by Ethan Morton.
After Tommy Friberg scored the first point of overtime with 1:02 left on a free throw to give State College a 50-49 lead, Butler point guard Ethan Morton drew a foul on a drive and went to the line.
He knocked down both free throws with 27.8 seconds left to push Butler ahead 51-50.
Butler ran its offense through Morton in the extra period, with State College’s Keaton Ellis constantly trying to deny him a chance to touch the ball.
“It’s odd to say you rely on a freshman point guard, but it’s odd to have a 6-foot-6 freshman point guard too,” Butler coach Matt Clement said. “He’s been awesome. He can really handle the ball, he makes foul shots and especially in closes games we want him at the foul line.
“Everybody wants him at the foul line. That’s another odd statement to make about a freshman.”
The Little Lions called a timeout with 21.1 seconds left, and they wanted to put the ball in Drew Friberg’s hands to create an opportunity. But Butler took that option away, leading to a 3-point attempt by Sekunda at the top of the key.
It was a pretty good look, State College coach Joe Walker said, but it didn’t fall for the Little Lions sharpshooter. And that wound up as State College’s final shot.
“A couple bounces didn’t go our way at the end of the game and that’s March Madness,” Walker said. “Any given night, the team that plays the best and takes advantage of opportunities is going to win.”
Butler limited State College’s opportunities with its physical defense, denying Sekunda and Friberg the chance to get free for much of the night.
That was a focal point of Butler’s game plan in addition to not fouling.
Clement knew the Little Lions thrive at the foul line. Friberg led that effort all season and came into the night 142 of 161 (88 percent) at the line — but the 6-foot-6 junior didn’t attempt a free throw Thursday night.
Still, he helped his team force overtime, drilling a 3-pointer to tie it with less than two minutes left in regulation.
“Finally I got loose,” Friberg said with a smile. “I’m glad I could knock it down.”
Though the Little Lions fell short in overtime, Sekunda proudly looked back at the team’s Mid Penn title. State College beat some of the best teams in the state to capture that title.
“You can’t win ‘em all,” Sekunda said. “You know everybody would love to, but had a couple shots not go our way, but can’t make ’em all.”