Before their game against North Allegheny on Saturday, the State College High Little Lions held a walk-through practice.
They got loose, debriefed and brushed up on their strategy for attacking a pressing defense.
Hours later they put their plan in action, but it wasn’t enough as North Allegheny overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to beat State College 68-53 in the Skip Coleman Memorial Invitational Championship.
“A walk-through is just not going to be sufficient to be able to play 32 minutes against that. They do a tremendous job,” State College coach Drew Frank said of the Tigers. “The problem is, we can’t simulate North Allegheny’s pressure defense because if we could we’d be running it ourselves. They’re so good at that. They generate so much offense off their defense.”
That was evident in the second half.
At first, State College was able to transition without much trouble.
The Little Lions took control in the second quarter with help from Michael Beattie and Kyle Kanaskie who combined for nine second-quarter points. Three minutes into the quarter, Beattie sunk two foul shots then drilled a midrange jumper after a turnover. Before the Tigers could cross midcourt, Kanaskie caught North Allegheny point guard Joe Mancini from behind, stole the ball drilled a layup and State College was on its way to a 19-12 run and pulled away for a 31-23 halftime lead.
North Allegheny shooters constantly opted for 3-point tries and saw shot after shot miss the hoop. The Tigers made only five of 23 three-pointers in the first half.
“We shot the ball from 3-point range awful the first half,” North Allegheny coach Dave DeGregorio said. “You just keep shooting. Sometimes they’re going to fall early, sometimes it’s in the middle and sometimes it’s late. We just stayed the course and did what we do.”
Eventually the deep shots started falling for the Tigers.
Luke Soyster nailed two critical third-quarter threes and Mike Carter hit another to help pull the Tigers within a point with a quarter to play.
The fourth was all North Allegheny as the Tigers outscored the Little Lions 28-12 over the final eight minutes.
The Tigers were helped when State College guard Bryan Sekunda fouled out after receiving a technical just two minutes into the final quarter. With that, the Little Lions lost one of their more vaunted shooters and tallest player — a key piece in breaking through the Tigers’ press.
Sean Hennigan led North Allegheny with 21 points including 11 in the fourth quarter. The Little Lions attempted only six foul shots to North Allegheny’s 14.
“I think the players, no pun intended, try to press a little bit,” Frank said. “I think it just wears on you. It kind of forces you into making bad choices, physically get a little tired, mentally get a little tired.”
La Salle College won the consolation game over Hazleton, 67-56. For their efforts, Sekunda and Kanaskie were named to the all-tournament team. Sekunda finished with 44 points in two games — 34 coming against La Salle on Friday. Kanaskie, meanwhile, finished with 22 points over the tournament.
Rounding out the all-tournament team were Hazleton’s Sal Biasi, La Salle’s Amar Stukes and Hennigan and R.J. Collabrese from North Allegheny.