Bryan Sekunda hit three baskets from close range, then really got cooking.
To the delight of a raucous group of State College High students, Sekunda drained back-to-back 3-pointers, pumped his fist and prompted La Salle College to take its first timeout minutes into an opening-round game in the Skip Coleman Memorial Invitational Friday at State College High.
With Sekunda’s furious start in front of a deafening student section, it looked like State College’s first tilt of the season would be an easy outing.
It was anything but.
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The Little Lions needed overtime to overcome La Salle, 78-73. The win set up a championship showdown between the Little Lions and North Allegheny. The Tigers advanced to today’s title game with a 76-60 win over Hazleton.
“The support was amazing. Our adrenaline was as high as it’s been all year,” Sekunda said. “Coming out to a crowd like that was insane. Everything we did the whole game we got a cheer. It was awesome.”
Most of those cheers came after Sekunda did something spectacular. The Little Lion senior led all scorers with 34 points, 12 of which came in the first quarter and two on a fierce breakaway dunk early that set the tone for State College.
“He really had a monster game for us tonight,” State College coach Drew Frank said.
Although the Little Lions led 16-12 after the first eight minutes, the Explorers settled in for the second quarter.
Led by guard Amar Stukes, La Salle scored 19 second-quarter points to take a 31-28 lead into halftime.
Stukes drove the net four times and came away with eight points, four on layups and four more on touch jump shots. He floated a shot over the State College defense as time expired to secure the Explorer’s halftime lead.
La Salle guard Steve Smith hit two of five 3-pointers in the first half while Pat Cooney added two.
In the second half, the Little Lions slowed down Stukes and nearly shut down Smith completely. Stukes had to rely on free throws as most of his bolt-to-the-basket tries were foiled by a stingy State College double team provided by Kyle Kanaskie and Jason Costa. Both State College players shadowed Stukes for much of the game but paid the price for mirroring the Explorer guard’s aggressive style, picking up enough fouls in the process for State College coach Drew Frank to be cautious with his guards’ playing time.
“He’s a great player. Limiting his chances is hard to do,” Sekunda said of Stukes. “He’s quicker than anybody we’re probably going to play this year. The idea was just to help off of everybody, maybe get a double teams here and there but I thought Kyle (Kanaskie) did a great job.”
And the Lions would need Costa and Kanaskie late. Costa added eight points in a hectic fourth quarter while Kanaski chipped in five. Both teams combined for forty fourth-quarter points before Cooney drilled his lone second-half basket — a 3-pointer with seven seconds to go — to secure the extra period.
Kanaskie and Costa continued to be effective in overtime. Kanaskie hit two free throws before fouling out and Costa added four overtime points to cap the game. Meanwhile, all of Stukes’ overtime chances came from the foul line as the Explorers tried to play catch-up in overtime. Sekunda notched eleven points in the fourth quarter and overtime combined.
“I thought for a first game with a number of new players, getting a sense of the feel for the game, I was really pleased with the level of effort,” Frank said.
Sekunda said he and his teammates are expecting a frenetic pace — similar to the one they encountered with La Salle — in the championship game against North Allegheny.
“Their pressure is crazy,” Sekunda said. “They’re full court the whole game, 100 miles per hour the whole time, but we’re ready. We’ve got a game plan.”