It was a marathon that went well into the night, but the State College boys’ basketball team did not panic and did not quit.
It just took an extra-long time to get another title.
Behind some clutch performances from Kyle Kanskie and the rest of the team, the Little Lions wrapped up a third straight District 6 Class AAAA basketball title Wednesday night in St. Francis University’s DeGol Arena.
“This feels really, really good,” Kanaskie said after a 63-59 double-overtime win over Central Mountain. “Words can’t even describe it.”
The senior guard delivered when the team needed it the most, scoring nine of his 20 points in the extra periods while going 10-for-10, including 7-for-7 during the extra frames, from the foul line.
“Kyle was huge,” said senior forward Bryan Sekunda, who netted a game-high 21 along with eight rebounds, three steals and three blocks. “He closed the game. He was huge.”
The title, the 13th in program history and fifth in the last six seasons, sends State College (17-7) into the PIAA first round on March 9 against a to-be-determined team from District 7.
Central Mountain (16-7) got 19 points and seven rebounds from star guard Cole Renninger, but 13 of those points came in the first half and he fouled out less than a minute into the first overtime.
How much did that hurt losing someone who entered the game scoring 27.4 points per game?
“Big time, but I’m proud of the guys that didn’t quit at that point,” Wildcat coach Scott Baker said. “They could have folded and we could have got blown out there in the first overtime.”
Central Mountain led for a large majority of regulation and was up 46-44 on a Luke Wise scoop shot with 36 seconds left.
Then Kanaskie made the first of his clutch shots 14 seconds later by driving the lane and flipping the ball from a near-impossible angle as he lunged under the backboard.
“When Kyle hit that shot at the end of regulation,” coach Drew Frank said, “We were like, ‘Yeah, he’s going to hit this,’ because that’s what Kyle does for us. That’s what Bryan does for us. They never panicked and played with poise.”
Renninger milked the clock to set up the final attempt, then drove the lane for a short leaner that bounced off the rim, and his tip put-back also was just off the mark as time expired.
Aside from the loss of Renninger, the first overtime was uneventful, with neither team making a field goal. Kanaskie sank all four of his attempts from the line and Travis Turchetta accounted for all of his team’s points of six of his eight for the game from the line in the frame.
“Everybody was so tired,” Kanaskie said. “We just had to keep fighting, keep staying in front on defense and keep attacking.”
Clinging to a one-point lead, Sekunda sank a pair from the line with 1:13 left, then Kanaskie made his final big play of the night, swiping the ball and turning it into a layup and free throw to provide enough insurance for the win.
“I’m pretty confident when it comes to free throws, I guess,” said Kanaskie, who entered the game hitting 94 percent from the line this season. He also gave out five assists and totaled three steals.
“We kept a positive mentality the whole time,” Sekunda said of the lengthy game. “It worked in the end.”
The game could have gotten away from the Little Lions right after halftime, when they missed their first 10 shots and went more than five minutes without a point while the Wildcats made 3 of their first 4 from the floor for their largest lead of the night at 33-26.
“I thought at that point we needed to attack the inside more,” Frank said. “Lets get something going, see if they would be able to play defense without fouling.”
They especially clamped down on Renninger, who made only one more field goal the rest of the game. The Little Lions used mostly man-to-man defense, with a variety of players drawing the tough defensive assignment on the star and plenty of switching and help to keep him from getting open space.
“We stuck with what we worked on coming into this,” Frank said of the defensive plan for Renninger. “I just thought we were a little more consistent with what we were trying to do with him (after halftime).”
The Little Lions finally broke the drought when Kanaskie hit Sekunda cutting down the lane for a layup, then Kanaskie slashed to the basket for a bucket of his own, and moments later Sekunda grabbed a defensive rebound and sent a long outlet to Jason Costa for a lay-in to bring the margin back to one.
“They have the character and they just know how and find a way to win,” Frank said. “It’s been different in different situations, but they’ve been there before.”
Tyler Everhart added 14 points, while Wise and Von Walker each netted eight.
“We still kept going punch-for-punch with them,” Baker said. “I could talk all night about the game, but the biggest thing is I’m just the luckiest coach in America.”
But it was the Little Lions who got to see their season extended, even though it took a lot of extra work to get Wednesday’s win.
“I’m really tired,” Kanaskie said. “I’m going to sleep good tonight.”